Do psychiatrists perpetuate the stigma of mental illness?

Time to Change, a British mental health organization dedicated to ending mental health stigma, partnered with the country’s National Health Service to address the issue of the stigmatization and mistreatment of patients within the mental health care system. A study conducted by Time to Change, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found that between 2008 and 2011 there was a drop in mental health discrimination within the general populace in the UK: “the average discrimination ‘score’ reported by people fell by 11.5%.” However, the study found “‘no significant reduction’ in the level of discrimination people reported from mental health professionals.” All of the incredible work conducted by great mental health organization’s like Time to Change has not impacted the way mental health professionals treat their patients. But frankly, I’m not surprised.

I have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II for the past 10 years. Bipolar II is characterized by hypomania and depression. So I have gone through periods of hyper-productivity, hyper-creativity, and general hyperactivity. However, I have also experienced the darkest depths of depression. I have had suicidal thoughts and have self-harmed. I have been through the byzantine bureaucracy of the mental health care system in Canada on several occasions, and I can attest that the UK study isn’t wrong.

psychiatryWhen talking about my mental illness with people, I’m often asked about the stigma I have experienced and my answer often surprises them. I have never experienced stigma from friends, family, or employers. Of course, there is always one idiot in the crowd who says something stupid, but overall, stigma for me, hasn’t come from the layperson. The biggest form of stigma, as the Time to Change study reported, was from mental health professionals. The biggest offenders, in my experience, have been the psychiatrists and I’m sick and tired of it.

Crazy Cat Lady

The epitome of the crazy lady. I even have a cat now!

One psychiatrist told me that I was pretending to have a mental illness because I displayed atypical symptoms of the disorder. He found me too well-dressed, too well-spoken, too composed to be experiencing anxiety attacks or depression. Apparently I should have been a bedraggled, blathering idiot who was foaming at the mouth, because that’s what depression and anxiety look like. A psychiatrist once told me that my self-harm and suicidal thoughts were just attention-seeking behavior and that my mental illness was my fault. Another psychiatrist told me that I shouldn’t have children because they might inherit my mental illness, as if I’m some kind of monster who shouldn’t procreate.

Most recently, my psychiatrist told me that I don’t have a mental illness, and that my real problem was that I needed to laugh more, have more sex, and love my husband. Apparently, dicks are a magic cure for mental illness! Someone give this doctor the Nobel Prize for Medicine because he found the cure for all mental illness — a penis. Oh wait, scratch that, I don’t actually have a mental illness, I just need to be fucked. If we were in Victorian England, this would have been a normal response to female mental illness. Sex and masturbation was how they “cured” (I use that term loosely) women of hysteria (which no longer exists as a diagnosis). But we’re not in 19th century London. This is 2015, in Canada, and this doctor is treating me like I’m just a miserable, frigid wife who isn’t submitting to her female duties.

I am so sick and tired of arrogant psychiatrists who dismiss and infantilize me, like I’m a dumb, attention-seeking girl who just needs a good lay. Over the past 10 years I have seen four separate psychiatrists, all more offensive and useless than the next. I don’t know if it’s because they’re overworked, underpaid, and generally stressed, but if any other professional treated their “customers” the way psychiatrists often do, they would quickly find themselves out of business.

This article originally appeared on Ravishly.

6 thoughts on “Do psychiatrists perpetuate the stigma of mental illness?

  1. I’ve had some of these, sometimes psychologists and LCSWs. I once had a psychologist tell me that I didn’t have bipolar because I was in a stable place the three times I saw him. I often have periods of relief between mood swings, he should have seen me last week, then he would have believed!

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  2. As a nurse, I can tell you right off the hop that psychiatrist have one of the better rates of pay among health professionals and their work load is the lightest (I got this info from a resident who wanted to go into psychiatry for those reasons…I’m also in Canada). I’ve had 3 psychiatrists, everyone more stupid and disinterested than the last, but I’m staying with this one I have currently because I’m pretty sure there aren’t anymore available ones in the city. My current psychiatrist, after having treated me for over year, asked me this last appointment, “So you still feel you’re bipolar? ” ~insert British accent~ Although it wouldn’t solve all my problems, a big dick and an orgasm would be more beneficial to me than any treatment I’ve received thus far. Love you! Enjoy your candor so much!

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  3. I’m always bemused when I get copies of my letters from my psych to my doctor, and they always note that I am dressed and tidy. Of course I am dressed and tidy. Even if I can only manage a bath a week, I’ll have it the day before an appointment and change clothing so I look nice and tidy because oh, I’m actually leaving the house for the first time that week. Doot doot doot. I think a lot of psychiatrists have forgotten that so many of us had to pick between honesty and being treated like shit, or faking it just enough that people don’t notice you, or at the very least, leave you alone. As one of my besties laments, the system needs more mentally ill people in it. To which I reply sadly that most are weeded out because they don’t conform to the expectations and level of compliance expected of a doctorate candidate. :/


  4. My first psychiatrist was very much like this. He told me it was unlikely I’d be able to work or have children (he also kept forgetting that I already had both a job and a child!), and was a huge fan of the word “can’t”. He would just sit and smirk at me and ask me to talk me about my week, and whenever I’d finish speaking he’d say “…but what else?”, like being a bipolar single mother with a full-time job wasn’t enough use of my time. I couldn’t get away from him fast enough.

    I have been very, very lucky since then. My second psychiatrist was wonderful, and I saw him until he retired. After I married my husband he helped me find a medication combination that allowed me to get pregnant with my daughter, and he supported me through that process so that I was able to stay in good health the entire time, even postpartum. My new doctor is also great, and really listens to my concerns about medications, side effects and symptoms. He is also a huge proponent of different group therapies that have worked well for me, and I’ve done really well under his care. THEY ARE OUT THERE. I’ve been super lucky and I know that (and it’s something that goes in my gratitude journal all the time!), but please don’t give up. They’re not all dickheads who don’t get it. There are one or two who actually give a shit!

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