Mental Illness Stigma Affects Psychiatrists Too – Who Wants to be a Psychiatrist?
Recently I read Invisible Tattoos: The stigma of psychiatry by Dr. Henry A. Nasrallah in Current Psychiatry. Invisible Tattoos is an editorial piece on how the stigma of mental illness affects psychiatrists just like it affects the mentally ill. And my reaction?
Oh cry me a freaking river.
I thought the piece was a little whiny and navel-gazing. I mean seriously, these people are respected professionals making lots of money – they don’t have an illness threatening to kill them every day.
But then I got a comment from a medical student and I reconsidered my position. Maybe antipsychiatry poster-boy Tom Cruise doesn’t just fuck around with the way people look at me, maybe he fucks around with the way people look at psychiatrists too. And maybe stigma is difficult for psychiatrists too.
Antipsychiatry vs. Psychiatry
People, mostly antipsychiatrists, tell me I’m evil because I’m a pharma-shill as evidenced by this site. And perhaps more insidiously, others insist I’m really just caught up in a giant web of pharmacology conspiracy and I’m just too stupid and naive to know any better – thus writing me and my opinions off nicely.
This is all falderal, naturally, but the antipsychiatry folks have to have some hatred to hurl at me, I suppose.
But consider for the moment, if I am evil for what I do, how despicable a doctor – someone who prescribes the evil for others – must be.
Psychiatry and Stigma
According to Invisible Tattoos psychiatrists face stigma from their family and friends, just like the mentally ill.
- Stigma: Psychiatrists aren’t “real” doctors.
- Reality: Psychiatrists are not only medical doctors who attended the same medical schools but they attended additional schooling to become a psychiatrist as psychiatry is a further specialty.
- Stigma: Psychiatrists are only money-driven.
- Reality: Psychiatrists make less money than many other specialties and in the US, health insurance companies reimburse at lower rates for psychiatric services than other medical specialties.
- Stigma: Psychiatry treatment is considered a failure.
- Reality: The success rates in psychiatry are virtually the same, and in some cases higher, than other specialties.
Medical Students and Antipsychiatry
And not only do all these ridiculous antipsychiatry statements affect practicing doctors but they also affect medical students considering going into the field of psychiatry as this medical students expresses:
. . . in medical school and in society I keep picking up a negative perception towards mental illness. My family members keep trying to persuade me to pick internal medicine and do cardiology or GI . . . They feel that the good pay is worth it and at least I get respect from society. Even within medicine, other students tell me not to pick Psychiatry as I won’t be paid nearly as much as the more lucrative specialties such as Gastroenterology. And I won’t have to put up with society’s bullshit and demonization.
This makes becoming a psychiatrist a very difficult proposition. Do you willingly become a pariah among your family, friends and colleagues or do you go with a branch of medicine that pays more and people respect?
It’s a wonder anyone becomes a psychiatrist at all.
Why Do People Become Psychiatrists?
Well, as I’m not a psychiatrist, I can’t say for sure, but I believe, hold onto your hats, they do it to help people. That’s right, the evil-pill-pushing monsters are really trying to help people with very severe, possibly lethal, illnesses. Imagine that.
Again, this medical student expresses his reasons,
I came into medical school wanting to do Psychiatry because I particularly enjoyed working closely with patients and people, and personally feel that Mental Illness can be far more devastating than other types of illness . . . some patients may also have heart disease and diabetes, but the schizophrenia when uncontrolled leads to them not taking their pills and a downward spiral culminating in disaster. Then when I see how most patients with mental illness get ripped on by family members and society in general I feel like helping them all the more.
I don’t know the person who left these comments here, but what I do know is we need more people like that in psychiatry. What I know is it’s hard to stand up against antipsychiatry, intolerance and hatred. What I know is there are more sick people than doctors can handle and one more with a good heart can save lives.
And while I have my problems with doctors, medicine, psychiatry and psychiatrists, I will stand behind their work and always say they are doing the best they can to help people that the rest of society would happily write off.
I will never stand behind those who are not good psychiatrists, those who would abuse their power or who don’t care about their patients. But these are not the average psychiatrist. The average psychiatrist is a caring person who sees psychotic patients not because it’s lucrative or fun, but because they honestly want to help better the lives of others.
So please become a psychiatrist and I will stand with you against the hate. You deserve to be respected every bit as much as I do.
About Natasha Tracy
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.