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Medical discrimination against Mental Health Patients?

Updated on January 14, 2015

There is a time in everyone’s life when they need help. It doesn’t matter if the help needed is something physical or mental, we all are going to need someone. Sometimes finding that assistance can be as easy as asking a friend or family member, but what happens when it is something only a professional can assist you with? Is it easy for everyone to ask for that help, especially with today health care situation? I have to say no, especially if you are a veteran or a senior citizen.

Personal Experience

It seems weird for me to think this way, but it is only because of personal experience and firsthand knowledge from others that I have to come to the belief it is true. I’ll start with my own experience with dealing with our health care system. I’m a veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I go to the Veteran’s Affair (VA) Clinic and Hospital to receive most of my health care treatment. Due to my PTSD I have been taking medication for over three years; 100mg Trazodone, .50 Klonopin and 200mg sertraline, this does not include other medications taken on a trial basis to see how they affected my disorder. Since I have been diagnosed with PTSD it seems to be even more difficult to get a doctor to listen to me when dealing with a physical problem. Case in point, during my last annual checkup with my primary care manager (PCM) I pointed out the fact that I was having difficulty with breathing, heart burn, stomach irritation, headaches and diarrhea on most days of the month; plus I had been vomiting from time to time with no understanding of why. I believe my PCM halfway listened to what I was saying and prescribed me 20 mg of Omeprazole an anti-acid for my stomach. Now what I did forget to tell her is that from time to time I was also having blood in my stool, which is totally my fault; however, I do wonder why she didn’t ask me about this as a general questions.

On top of all of this I have also been struggling to receive treatment for my PTSD, as there does not seem to be enough counselors to provide more than a thirty minute session every four to five months at this time. I have had to fall back on the active duty mental health program to get further mental health treatment; which makes me feel bad since there are many individuals on active duty who need help and I worry I am taking away from them. I have been told I am not and am only seeing counselor when it is available, but still I wonder.

Fast forward a couple of months; I’m bleeding more, living on Tums and other anti-acids, plus I’m starting to bleed more. Since talking to my PCM doesn’t seem to work, I utilized the VA secure emailing system and lay it all out on the line of what is going on with me. Now normally if I had called this in, the response overall would have been slow; but since it was in writing and something not easily destroyed or blown off the response was extremely quick. My PCM prescribed me more anti-acids and scheduled me for a colonoscopy and an isoscopy. Granted due to the back log, from the time she ordered it to the point I actually get an appointment is a month. So now I wait for this appointment and pray things don’t get so bad I have to go to the Emergency Room.

Discrimination Firsthand -- Experiences of mental health-related stigma and discrimination

Knowledge from another Veteran

Now for my firsthand knowledge of another veteran’s medical problems. This veteran we will call ‘M’ since she is a very private person. M like me, went to her annual checkup and informed her PCM of different problems she was having; such as, constant diarrhea, multiple headaches, constant fatigue, stomach pains, etc that was causing her the inability to go to work or attend activities with her family and friends. M was prescribed medication to attempt to calm her stomach and diarrhea, plus she was scheduled to see a mental health provider since most likely this was due to depression. Mind you she has already had a thyroid removed, documented back injury, among other medical problems accrued during military service.

M allowed a couple of months to go by working with her PCM and counselor, before demanding further investigation be conducted into what is wrong with her since her symptoms have only become worst and she is unable to make it through most nights without defecating on herself and now having to wear a diaper at age 43. She like me is now waiting for further treatment and exams to attempt to pinpoint the problem.

Age Discrimination in Healthcare

Knowledge from a Senior Citizen

For my second firsthand knowledge of a senior citizen attempting to receive proper medical treatment for multiple problems. ‘S’ is 73 years old and has been living alone for roughly 20 years since her children left home to live their own adult lives. S has back, knee and hip problems; she has migraine headaches, stomach irritation, diarrhea, and other common medical problems a senior citizen has in general. Many of her family members have died from cancer of the stomach and lungs. Her PCM will chastise her if she sees another doctor with an expertise in dealing with the digestive system, muscles or bones; if she didn’t refer S to them. S’s PCM has gone as far as saying it is all in her head or that she can’t help her with a certain problem since it isn’t in the scope of her medical training; however, at the same time will not give her a referral to see a specialist.

Mental health patients feel stigmatised

Medical Community

So now the question should be, why is our medical community seemingly becoming so uncaring or absent-minded when dealing with someone with a mental illness or deterioration in mental cognitive due to age. As most people know as a person ages their body in general starts to deteriorate and there is no exception when it comes to the brain. In some cases individuals’ in the medical community have come to the conclusion that if you have or have had a mental health illness then physically nothing is wrong with you. It has to be your mental health illness making you think or feel ill. Plus, another problem is the stigma of a patient trying to get attention due to depression or loneliness and not being able to find an easy physical illness to diagnose. In some cases individuals have been basically ignored to the point of having no options in their care for a problem since it was ignored so long. As one example of this, is Graham Thornicroft. Diana Rose and Aliya Kassam article in International Review of Psychiatry, April 2007 on Discrimination in Health Care against People with Mental Illness. In which patients who had mental illnesses had been discriminated against through lack of treatment by health care physicians due to a history of mental illness. Many who were a part of their research into this potential problem seem to receive no or slow treatment when it came to real physical ailments.

In the end it makes me wonder how many people who go without medical treatment in general are being ignored by their over worked physicians due to a well-known stigma when it comes to an individual’s mental health or age and how many have physicians who basically need more medical education in general. It does make me wonder as time goes on, if some physicians thought they were going to have an exciting life in medicine and then found out if was nothing like what they saw on television and have resigned to doing the minimum to keep their license to practice? However, since I’m the type of person who thinks most people want to do the right thing as a norm; I believe the problem still revolves around lack of education when it comes to dealing with the different patients in general. However, it also comes down to the patient pushing and doing what they need to when they feel something is truly wrong and nothing is being done. Granted, like everything there are right and wrong ways of doing things; such as, putting in writing what is wrong with you or requesting a second opinion.

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