Dismissing the Pain of Psychiatric Patients

Dismissing the Pain of Psychiatric Patients

Among many things, I have been accused of dismissing the pain of psychiatric patients. Oh, excuse me, “psychiatric survivors.” And I would like to clarify something – I have done no such thing. I, personally, have my own painful stories about psychiatry and I don’t dismiss mine so why, exactly, would I dismiss anyone else’s?

The Term “Psychiatric Survivor”

One of the reasons that people are so mad, I suspect, is because I refuse to use, and do not support the term, “psychiatric survivor.” I consider that term to be flagrantly inflammatory and downright ridiculous. People aren’t “oncology survivors” (although many people have bad experiences with cancer treatment), people aren’t “cardiology survivors” (in spite of the fact that some people have horrible stories to tell), people are just patients – oncology patients, cardiology patients and psychiatry patients.

On an individual level, I don’t care what people call themselves and if, for some reason, calling themselves a “psychiatric survivor” makes them feel better, then they should feel free to go ahead and do it, but to expect a rational, thinking, intelligent human being with a full grasp of the English language and psychiatric system to absolutely, necessarily agree with it? I think not.

However, just because I refuse to use ridiculous wording, this doesn’t diminish the experiences that these people have had.

Painful Psychiatric Patient Stories

Some psychiatric patients have horrible stories to tell and I don't dismiss the pain of psychiatric patients, I dismiss antipsychiatry in general.I know all sort of psychiatric patient stories – some of which are horrendous, some of which are miraculous. I have my own psychiatric tales, some of which are horrendous and some of which are miraculous. That’s because psychiatry is like any branch of medicine – sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.

For example, I know of someone who has a very nasty cancer, and so, of course, is getting treatment. That treatment caused a heart attack. A heart attack! That is no mild side effect. And yet, does she consider herself an “oncology survivor?” Um, no. She simply understands that what happened was that she was in the minority that experience that one, significantly horrible, side effect.

And, might I say, the treatment for cancer kills many people. Kills them. Like, dead. And people think psychiatry is so much worse than that?  Yeah, that’s not rational thinking.

Psychiatry Isn’t Perfect

Of course, in saying all that, it’s important to remember that psychiatry isn’t, and psychiatrists aren’t, perfect. We’re talking about imperfect human beings and an imperfect human system. And of all the branches of medicine, one might consider psychiatry to particularly be in its infancy. I would imagine that 100 years from now, how we treat mental illness today will be considered laughable. (But then, that can be said for pretty much any branch of medicine.)

And psychiatry, perhaps, might be considered one of the most challenging areas of medicine because doctors are required to rely on patient self-reports so very much (except for maybe this brain scan).

And, of course, there are also very bad psychiatrists out there – much like there are bad cardiologists, oncologists, plumbers and everything else.

Dismissing the Pain of Psychiatric Patients

So when someone has a negative story to tell about psychiatry, it may very well be 100% true. I can’t say; I wasn’t there. But these stories should always be tempered by rational thought and an understanding that for every horror show there is a miracle. To view one side without the other is irrational. To think that psychiatrists hurt all they touch is ludicrous. To generalize any single story, including your own, to the population at large, is a logical fallacy.

So I don’t dismiss the pain of psychiatric patients. Many psychiatric patients do experience real pain in the psychiatric system and at the hands of a psychiatrist, no doubt about it.

What I dismiss is the notion that the psychiatric system is simply all that way. What I dismiss is the notion that a handful of stories personify the greater whole. What I dismiss is that one bad psychiatrist ruins the whole bunch. What I dismiss is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. What I dismiss is the notion of antipsychiatry in general.

So no, I don’t dismiss experiences. What I dismiss is one-sided thinking.


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.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

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