The Mentally Ill Who Attempt Suicide Are Second-Class Patients
Have you ever attempted suicide because of a mental illness? Have you ever gone to the emergency room (ER) because of a suicide attempt related to a mental illness? If you have, then you probably know, the mentally ill who attempt suicide are second-class patients in the ER. Doctors seem to, distinctly, not like people who attempt suicide. The same goes with people who self-harm. These people are second-class patients as well. But why are the mentally ill who attempt suicide second-class patients?
Doctors Don’t Like the Mentally Ill Who Attempt Suicide
A doctor’s job is, at its core, to save lives. Doctors (particularly in the ER) go out of their way and do everything possible to save the lives that are being delivered to them. The mentally ill who attempt suicide work against this mandate. It sort of makes sense that someone who would take a life is frowned upon by those dedicated to saving them.
The same logic goes to why doctors don’t like people who self-harm. Doctors are busy patching innocent victims of accidents up all day and people who self-harm create these injuries on purpose – making more work for the (often) overworked doctors and taking time away from those patients who are in the ER through no fault of their own.
You see this second-class citizenry of those who attempt suicide by seeing how long they have to wait to see someone (often an acutely suicidal person with a mental illness is expected to wait for hours, probably alone), the lack of care they receive when they do see someone and their lack of even receiving a hospital bed, instead, being released as acutely suicidal as they were before they took the pills in the first place.
Suicide Attempts and Self-Harm Are the Symptoms of Mental Illness
The problem with this logic is that it fails to recognize suicide attempts and self-harm as what they are: symptoms of a greater, legitimate, medical illness. People don’t wake up one morning and just decide to take a blade to their wrists as if it were changing coffee chains on their way to work. No, people are driven to these acts by suffering and, usually, it’s suffering at the hands of mental illness.
In other words, suicide is a symptom of mental illness and not merely an annoying thing that people do. And doctors are completely missing out on this reality.
I get why it’s easy to show compassion to a burn victim who got his or her wounds by running into a burning building to save a child. Righty. No problem understanding why people like that person. And I get why it’s easy to show compassion for a person who suffers a heart attack out of the blue through no fault of his or her own – totally understandable.
But what I don’t get is why doctors – who are supposedly well trained in aspects of illness, pain and suffering – don’t see suicide attempts by the mentally ill for what they are – symptoms of an illness, an illness contracted by the person through no fault of his or her own, an illness that most people would do absolutely anything to get rid of, an illness that’s just as real (and possibly fatal) as the one that may have caused a heart attack.
Instead, the mentally ill who attempt suicide are treated like an inconvenience, something that interrupts the doctors’ “real” work. (And, by the way, this may be how loved ones treat a person who has attempted suicide, too. This really adds insult to injury.)
I suspect this feeling that people with mental illnesses who attempt suicide are second-class patients has to do with a lack of education on the part of the doctors. While doctors do partake in psychiatric rounds during their training, it seems like most of them forget whatever it was they learned during those few months. Or, perhaps, they just never did have compassion for any of those they treated in the hospital; it’s hard to say.
But what I will say is this: the mentally ill who attempt suicide deserve the same quality of care as anyone else. If a person almost dies because of a heart attack they are given proper medical attention, including admission to the hospital, as they should. And people who attempt suicide deserve no less. We do not deserve stigma-laden judgement and prejudice. We are not second-class patients just because we have illnesses that can’t be measured on a blood test. We are not second-class patients because our illnesses have manifested in a suicide attempt. We are just patients, like other patients. And we deserve compassion, respect and high-quality healthcare. We are just as innocent as anyone else who ends up in the ER.
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.