Real Talk: Some of us healers need to check our biases
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health gets a lot of attention during May, but what about the other 11 months of the year? Technically, mental illness is no different than a physical illness one can see. However, when it comes to mental health care, resources are abysmal and mental health stigma is ever present.
Unfortunately, when patients with a mental illness do find care, they are often met with disdain from the very people who are charged with caring for them.
I have witnessed healthcare professionals stigmatize patients with mental illness. Maybe not to the patient’s face, but in their refusal to do what they’re tasked to do. Having security present when it’s not necessary or hospital policy to do something as simple as a blood draw. Sending patients back to the psych unit when they’re not really ready, because they can’t deal with the psych part of their illness only for us to turn around and send them back to a medical floor again. Or when you’re in social media groups and people posts videos of a patient suffering an acute episode attacking hospital employees and the first thing someone says is “those psych patients are dangerous.”
Actually, most patients with mental illness are not violent, but the media and others would have you believe that they are violent. It does not help that healers sometimes internalize that and carry out biases towards patients with mental illness.
Working with patients with a mental illness on a daily basis is not for everyone, but all healthcare professionals will encounter patients with mental illnesses, and it costs nothing to use therapeutic communication and not be a part of the mental health stigma patients face in the outside world.
I am sure I have acted biased towards a patient, even when I did not intend to, but as a lifelong learner, as nurses and other healthcare professionals are tasked to be, I hope I can learn from that unintended bias to give better care to my patients.