It is scary how much lack of information or misinformation there is out there regarding mental illness. I think this is obvious to anyone who deals with these issues personally, but it never ceases to amaze me, no matter how much time passes. I think it’s getting worse in this age of technology. So many people post things online and anyone can access them and read them and think “Oh, this is the way it is” or “Oh, this is true.” Granted, truth is subjective in nature, depending on what you’re looking into. The “truth” of one person’s experience may not be “truth” to another person. I am all for sharing personal experiences because I think that is really how we all learn more about mental disorders and how the brain works and functions. If no one ever shared, very little would be gained. We would be subject to the interpretations (often wrong) of the doctors and authorities and those around us. That is why I think it so important for mental health patients to speak about their experiences, and to educate the public and educate doctors and clinicians as well.
I have noticed when I do research on mental health topics I find interesting, there is ALWAYS misinformation that pops up. Sometimes it is just a random opinion of someone that is inaccurate or ignorant. Sometimes it is information that is actually posted on what many consider to be REPUTABLE sites! A HUGE offender is the website “PsychCentral”. I have seen so much offensive, inaccurate, erroneous information regarding mental health on that website that frankly, it is scary.
I have also noticed several websites of private psychiatrists, psychologists and the like describing mental health afflictions like bipolar and borderline. I’ve been appalled at how many of these characterizations are over simplified or simply WRONG. I think this is due to a few things.
A) These clinicians do not LIVE with these issues personally therefore they lack an inherent understanding of them and how they work or feel on an internal level. They use themselves as a reference point and assume that they know what all people are feeling or thinking when they don’t. They’re simply projecting their own thoughts onto others and making generalizations based on that.
B) Their knowledge base mainly stems from what I would call “textbook knowledge” or what they learned while in graduate school. A person can have all the book knowledge in the world but without a deeper understanding and intuition into the area, they will not “get it”, they will not truly be able to piece things together on a visceral level or in a holistic way. I’ve dealt with many clinicians who even years into their profession, discussed disorders in a “textbook” way only. I liken it to male gynecolegists/obstetricians. Sure, they have some knowledge. But could they ever REALLY know what it is like to carry a child and give birth, and advise someone accordingly? Not really. Their answers will always involve “textbook” replies. They take a pre-set model (which may not even be accurate to begin with) and they then apply this model to their patients. If a patient presents differently, it is assumed it is the patient that is wrong, and not the pre-set model. I think in a way so many doctors today lack problem solving skills or critical thinking ability. They may be able to recite a long list of medications and textbook presentations of known illnesses but beyond that, they can’t really offer much.
C) They have biases. Let’s face it. EVERYONE has biases whether they realize it or not. How we grew up, our religious (or lack of religious) views, our experiences with particular groups of people – these all influence our thoughts and opinions. The problem with bias is when it causes a person (or people) to make unfair generalizations about others. To say “People with bipolar disorder have difficulty regulating their emotions” would be accurate. I doubt anyone with bipolar would take offense to such wording. But to say “People with bipolar are angry and lack self-control” is not totally accurate. Are some people with bipolar that way? Sure. Is EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. with bipolar that way? Uh, no. People on the “outside” who are looking for information may take it as true and then THEY have a negative pre-set model in their head, if they were ever to meet such an individual. They would already have a preconceived notion and bias themselves, just because of what some random doctor said. (And while I’m at it, I just have to mention, they obviously aren’t even good doctors at all or they would know their characterizations were incorrect and lack sensitivity.)
It bothers me SO much because I think how an unknowing individual might go searching for information and what do they get? Search results with a bunch of garbage mixed in with some pertinent information or accurate/helpful insights here and there. I recall searching for information years back and being disheartened by it. It was filled with negative messages and despair about how the disorders were hard to treat, there was no cure, the people were “difficult” etc. All the horrible stigma surrounding them is actually in these cases increased by the very people who are supposed to be advocating for these people, their patients! If I read one more doctor talk about how “manipulative” BPD patients are and how they “lack empathy” I think I will reach through my screen and choke them (Oh, how BORDERLINE of me – I must be exhibiting some psychopathology by that comment! *note sarcasm*)
Characterizations like that convince me that these psychiatrists/counselors lack knowledge, understanding and even compassion, and have an inability to see their patients or anyone with a mental disorder as human beings. They are talked about as if they are mere things, like they are without feelings, consciousness or souls. And frankly, it makes me irate. Why? Because all people want to be heard and to be understood. And people who deal with mental health issues certainly don’t need people within the mental health field making them feel worse about the very things they are trying to work on or improve, or characterizing them in pompous, condescending ways. I can’t help but wonder why people get into this field if they lack that fundamental empathy and compassion for those they are supposed to help?
So, what happened to all the GOOD doctors in the world? Are there any left?