You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your own way around in it. - Albert Einstein

Thursday, 31 October 2013

on why I wouldn't trust a psychiatrist as far as I could throw it

I've noticed that there's a bit of a theme that, when I encounter when reading blogs, fires my anger right up, and I fire off comments in the heat of the moment. And I figure, if there's all that energy there that is going into other people's comments spaces, I should take that energy and focus it on my own blog.

The theme is around psychiatrists and the mental health system and how they treat their patients.

I don't like it. I don't like it a bit.

When making generalisations, I think it's important to be clear about the nature of generalisations, and that is, of course, that they don't fit every situation or individual. There are always abundant exceptions to a generalisation. And so I would expect, even though as a generalisation, I don't like psychiatrists, that I would meet one along the way who was actually quite unobjectionable, or at least that I would know of someone who could tell me, 'Hey, I know this bloke who's a psychiatrist, but he's actually a decent person.' Only, it actually hasn't happened to me yet. I don't personally know of anyone who has found an experience with a psychiatrist to be helpful. If anyone does know of one, please let me know. It might help to ease my despair.

So, why have I come to form this opinion? From the beginning...

I told the first psychiatrist I saw that I was feeling really overwhelmed and angry at the level of sexual violence and violence against women in our society. She told me that they kill baby girls in China. That's all she said, and then she asked me to make another appointment. That first appointment cost me a week and half worth of my income at the time.

The second psychiatrist I saw made lots of appointments for me that he just didn't bother to turn up to. This was devastating, after all the effort and struggle it took just to get to those appointments. When he did turn up, he wouldn't say much. Then one day he seemed quite excited as he told me about a special computer test that he wanted me to do. He told me I would be 'hooked up to a computer' which would run tests on my brain function and he expected to get great insights about my condition with its use. I was imagining something pretty fancy, the way he was so excited. I made another appointment, and I managed, with huge effort, to get there. I had hope.

I got to my appointment and I was put in front of a regular computer terminal . The screen displayed inanely basic questions about how I felt and I just had to answer them with a click - yes, no, a little, a lot. They were the same questions I 'd answered over and over again in every interview with every doctor or therapist along the way. I couldn't believe this was the 'amazing new computer test' he had raved on about. It was a total waste of time and energy. At my next appointment, he told me that 'the computer indicates that you're depressed.' He held this out like it was great piece of news, and then was so happy with his efforts that he didn't make any more appointments for me. He considered that he had done his job by me. All he'd done was take six weeks to make a diagnosis that my GP had correctly made in one consultation, and he was done with me.

The next psychiatrist I saw told me that my epilepsy was all in my imagination, and that if I just stopped thinking about my epileptic symptoms, they would go away. He also told me that my belief in my religion was proof that I was psychotic. He said it wasn't a real religion. When I explained that my religion is legally recognised in Australia, he said he was 'surprised' and 'interested' to hear that but it seemed like he didn't believe me. I even cited court rulings. He wasn't convinced. I do wonder what on earth Roman Catholics do when they're in this situation. Do you believe in the miracle of transubstantiation? The intercession of saints? If you do, the psychiatrist will say you're psychotic. If you don't, the priest says you're a sinner. Maybe you're even going to hell.

So, despite the very real legal acknowledgement of my religion in this country, and the EEG results that said I have temporal lobe epilepsy, I was given anti-psychotic medication which had the side effect of causing me to gain 24kg in weight. I've still never actually had a psychotic episode.

Next I met a psychiatrist who had an interest in what he called the 'funny epilepsies.' He had a lot of insight into the range of symptoms I was experiencing with complex partial seizures, and I learned a lot. Then at my next appointment I started crying. He lost his bedside manner, and indeed any manners, immediately, and suddenly started speaking to me very rudely as if I were a small child behaving badly. He turned mean, just because I started crying. And then he handed me back to my GP. I never saw him again.

Then there was the one who decided that I should have electric shock therapy. There's always one like that. Fortunately the next day I saw a different doctor who didn't go ahead with it. If the roster at the hospital had been different, I could have been subjected to ECT.

Then there was the one who was extraordinarily preoccupied with my entire sexual history and the way my body smelled. If I mentioned male friends or past relationships within earshot of one of the nurses, the nurse would relay this snippet to the doctor, and then he would grill me like he was a cop in a movie as to whether or not I was sleeping with this person. If I happened to take some exercise and return to the ward all sweaty, I would be similarly grilled about my hygiene habits and how I behave when I'm in the shower. For fuck's sake.

There was the time I didn't even get as far as seeing a psychiatrist, because when I turned up at the mental health service offices and asked for help, the intake worker told me that as I was neatly dressed and wearing make-up, I was clearly not unwell enough to qualify for receiving any help. 

Even stranger than that was the time I turned up to visit a friend and found her having a major psychotic episode. I called mental health services. They came out to visit and told me that my friend was clearly psychotic, and that she was too sick for a hospital to take her in, and therefore I would have to look after her. I still can't work out how that makes any sense. They didn't ask if I was willing to care for my friend, they just told me that I shouldn't tell her about any of my own experiences with mental health services, and left us alone. I had meant to visit for a few days, but I had to stay for six weeks and watch her every minute and restrain her when she tried to kill flies by smashing ceramic plates into glass windows, or when she put her hand in the blender to clean it while it was still on.

Then there was the one who objected to me having an epileptic episode in his hospital. I tried to reassure them that it's not a problem, I just need the right medication and a day to sleep it off, but they didn't like it. I was transferred to another hospital without my consent, where I did not receive any mental health care at all.

That was the last straw for me. But there was still the psychiatrist that Mr CJ was given an appointment with through the Pain Clinic. I went with him to the appointment. This is a story that is not mine to tell, so I won't relate the kind of rubbish that this arsehole put onto poor Mr CJ, but I was there, and I know it was nasty. 

This has just been my story. I know that I am very lucky, because plenty of other people I know have been treated much worse by the mental health system and really suffered terribly. I've know so many people whose lives have been destroyed by drugs whose side effects make you much sicker than you ever were in the first place. My best friend from high school died while she was an inpatient in psychiatric hospital, aged 17. I've known one woman who had fallen pregnant when a condom broke, and was denied access to abortion by her psychiatrist. I've known another woman who was forcibly restrained had an abortion performed on her against her will. I've heard these stories of abuse in care over and over again.

But never once in my life have I ever heard anyone say 'I spoke with a psychiatrist, and I found it helpful.' Not once.

And I was thrilled to read just the other day how Lou Reed took the chance to give them some of their own medicine when he had the opportunity. Oh, that was just lovely.


  1. Psychology is cool but psychiatrist... never. I don't even know what psychiatrist actually doing... I mean have u really heard of people that is accused of being insane, and goes to asylum and stated as healthy then? for me, never.
    They are not even giving people advice. I don't know is this just me who's affected by films that included psychiatrist or is it real? They're just asking similar questions repeatedly and telling u're not mentally healthy. I think they need to check themselves whether they're crazy or not. By the way great post

  2. Stumbled across your post by accident and it rather took me aback. All of my interactions with mental health have been very positive. I wonder if the system is different in Canada, or whether my having experiences primarily with psychologists rather than psychiatrists makes a difference. In any case, I just wanted to give you an extra data point of someone who has had good experiences. From my perspective, you seem to have been strangely UN-lucky.