Started in the US in 1949 by the Mental Health America organization, Mental Health Awareness Month is observed during May. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 adults will experience mental illness. In addition, in a survey done in 2021 by the American Psychological Association, there has been a rise in people seeking mental health care for diagnosis and anxiety.
Social media has also allowed many organizations and therapists such as @therapyforblackgirlsto create everyday content and tools for a wider community. As the individual needs grow for mental health resources, so does the need for physicians who value mental health within their practice.
One study surveyed doctors, and they found that even when depressive symptoms are reported, they were not always taken into consideration when giving care. Instead, doctors were more inclined to treat the physical concern instead of navigating how depression can cause chronic health issues within an individual.
This can be frustrating, primarily when many offices utilize a mental health screening form before the appointment. Being honest on the document and not receiving follow-up can make patients feel they are being ignored. Even if the provider is listening to your concerns, many struggle with believing a patient’s pain. A 2017 study pointed out the rise in discrimination and gaslighting patients receive from disclosing a mental health illness to their provider.
Another study found that 44% of adults had reported being discriminated against or dismissed by their physicians. Again, this looks like outwardly ignoring the issue, assuring it is “all in the head,” or even recommending institutionalizing someone for their concerns.
For marginalized people of color, this discrimination and dismissal can be even more forceful since many do not have the recourses to get a documented diagnosis. Those who do are often judged and treated more as a threat than their white counterparts. We have seen this in our past articles centering on male athletes and neurological health and Black women and maternal mortality.
Mental health and physical health are shared, and one does not outweigh the other or should be used to dismiss the other. Doctors also need to realize the white coat is not always right and learn more about the individual experience of the patients they are treating. With so much stigma surrounding mental health in our daily life, it is tough to think we would have to navigate in the place we go to get better.
Creating spaces that do not dismiss us for our mental health requires us to change how the school teaches about psychological and physical health. It also requires providers not always to feel that they know what is best based on the textbook. But to understand the nuances of what a person is experiencing.
For patients, it looks like having the understanding to know that a mental illness does not make you any less worthy of proper care or the right to speak up with your body. Instead, it is knowing that healthcare providers out there will be a supportive figures and not judgemental. Below are tips to navigate mental illness with healthcare providers:
- Find a provider who understands mental health and physical health are related.
- Discuss healthcare providers with your therapist (sometimes they have referrals)
- Discuss your experiences with your therapist or mental health professional to keep a record.
- Tell your healthcare provider to note in your chart anytime they deny you a test or exam based on your mental health.
- Implement self-care techniques because provider navigation can be overwhelming.
When discussing mental health, we need to allow open dialogue and a collaborative approach between the patient and physician. In addition, during the summer of 2022, HUED will be launching its E-learning pilot course centering on cultural competency. This program will equip care seekers and providers with the information needed to understand how these health detriments impact us individually and as a community.
No patient should be denied care because of their mental illness, and in fact, this should be an opportunity to create an individualized plan.
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