Sad and Tired

March 30, 2011 at 6:04 pm 4 comments

My work took me visiting to the Mental Health Services floor of our local hospital. D1 wing is located as far as it is possible to be from the main doors. To get there, you need to pass through the only public part of the hospital that is underground, down a corridor more narrow than the ones above (with, obviously, no windows) past doors clearly marked as electrical and mechanical service space. Barely public space. It is a distressing place to visit. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to be in distress, and have that be where I was expected to go for help.

I rarely find my way to D1, most of the people I am called in to visit in the hospital are there for physical ailments. (You know, the “good” kind of sick. The “normal” kind. Just regular sick. Not like those sickos locked away on D1.) And when I note that Mental Health Services is tucked away down an inhospitable corridor, far away from the hopeful bustle of the rest of the hospital, I should hasten to add that it used to be housed in a separate building altogether, even less encouraging of visitors. Today I saw no peeling, faded yellow paint. No damage or graffiti left by previous inhabitants. No barred gates. So it’s better than it used to be. I have some hope that the people there are being helped.

I went to visit a woman I last spoke to the day before she was admitted. She yelled through the door at me that I could not come in, that she hadn’t been expecting me, that I should come back tomorrow; she shouted her phone number, which I didn’t have- which was why I’d stopped by. I thought it odd, the yelling through the door part, and the frantic tone of her voice. But I didn’t know her well, I didn’t (and still don’t) know what her baseline of ‘normal behaviour’ looks like. I don’t know how she came to be in hospital, or who she let in to her apartment after I left. She didn’t answer her phone. I didn’t hear from her for weeks. Until today, when she asked me to bring communion to her, on D1.

I struggle with finding that line – when does “respecting human diversity” blur into “failing to recognize significant distress”. When does “respecting human autonomy” blur into “failing to support and help someone who didn’t know how to ask”. When does “respecting privacy” blur into “letting people fall through the cracks”. When am I my sister’s keeper?

She was very insistent that she was a “client” on D1, not a patient. I don’t know what the difference is, or if there is one. I know she is a beloved child of God, that is all I need to know in order to bring communion to her.

I’m not sure what my point is, or even that I have one. That the collective, societal “we” needs to get right the fuck over our stigmatization of mental illness. That mental health care needs to stop being Health Care’s neglected cousin. That it sucks that when I hit the genetic lottery, the place I’ll be seeking help for depression is a place that already makes me feel sad, and tired.


Entry filed under: Incarnational, Sacerdotal.

Bless me, what do they teach them at these schools?

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Heidi  |  March 30, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Back when I worked as a secretary at a mental health clinic, we referred to everyone as “clients” rather than as “patients” – I’ve been browsing online and it seems like maybe the best explanation is that patients are the beneficiaries of care whereas “client” implies a more participatory role – as in, they work with the caregiver?

    I dunno if that’s the reason or not. Maybe. Anyway.

    Seems to me like mental health facilities should be the opposite of what you describe – open, airy, pleasant places, rather than spaces that reinforce the mental walls that those of us who do struggle with mental health issues (in my case depression) put up around ourselves already.

  • 2. CTJen  |  March 30, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    The mental health wing of our local hospital is on the 7th floor of a tower with lots of bright open spaces and light streaming in. It’s still a sad, distressing place when your loved one is ill, but it’s not as bad as that.

    I really hope communion brought her peace.

  • 3. parodie  |  March 30, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    I CPE’d in a psychiatric hospital (Ottawa) that was new and open and air-y. It was pretty nice; not bad for a hospital, and downright good for a mental health centre.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that you would have been more likely to recognize signs of illness if you had known her behavioural baseline. Experience with mental illness (like all illness) also makes it easier to spot the symptoms, I think.

    It is heartbreaking that the resources available for mental illness are so meagre compared to physical illness. I think of it as a field so much in its infancy – we’re barely past the leeches and mustard plaster stage, if that. Emergency psychiatric care is complicated, hard to access, piece-meal… Bit by bit, we’re improving, though. There are pretty neat discoveries being made, and good, smart, devoted people pouring their time and energy into helping others. Step by step … like everything else.

  • 4. myrax  |  March 31, 2011 at 12:34 am

    I am sorry for intruding- I’m a lurker, but I rarely comment. I completely agree with you about how we need to address mental illness (it’s kind of personal for me as my ex was institutionalized against his will). I wanted to ask you to find a nicer way of phrasing “red-headed step-child.” I know it seems insignificant, but my mother was/is a red-headed step-child, and I can’t help but cringe every time I see that phrase.
    I understand that it is not meant to address actual red-headed stepchildren, and I know you mean no harm. I read your blog and I know you are a very generous and warm-hearted person. I also understand what the phrase means and that it is convenient.
    However, red-headed stepchildren can and do suffer for being obvious outsiders and considered unwanted by cultural standards. Please find other ways to express an unwanted-being.

    I am sorry for commenting and I hope that you don’t take offense. I know that you are very respectful and loving of everyone, and I am probably being too sensitive.

    I’d heard the phrase and never thought much about origins. And turns out it didn’t take much much thought to convince me that I’m prepared to excise that one. Thanks for calling my attention to it -CaL

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