Mental Vs. Physical: Do We Really Need To Debate?

Wording. How important is it?

If you ask a sociologist versed in symbolic interactionalism, they’ll probably put some importance on it. That’s what they spend their life studying after all: linguistics and symbols and blah, blah, blah, my God why do people choose the careers they do? What does Blah, Blah, Blah symbolize? My boredom or my complete illiteracy of symbolic interactionalism? The world may never know.

I read a story the other day off of Facebook from that website The Mighty (of whom I’ve lost any sort of respect for, see this post) about a woman with a rare disease that causes fatty tumors to grow just below the skin on several areas of the body. It’s obviously extremely painful. My explanation of this disease does not give it justice. The only relief she gets during particularly unbearable flare-ups is an unwilling but necessary trip to the E.R.

The doctors easily chalked up her “hysterics” to “just anxiety” that’s “all in her head” and refused to listen to her when she cried for pain medication. She kept telling them what she was experiencing and the nurses said “this is what the doctor wants you to try, this is what we’re trying” and handed her anxiety medications.

Eventually she had to come back to the hospital via ambulance and the doctors apologized for not believing her. Yes, her disease is rare, but let’s break down the two portions of the medical field that ultimately failed her this night.

e901926a29c2c3a58649b1f7723f63deThe ER is often flooded with people looking for a legal high. No one can deny that. It happens so often, doctor’s first suspicions go towards “Drug addict” when someone comes in begging for pain medication. My dad has conned plenty of doctors. It’s not that hard. All these people crying wolf have essentially weakened the trust on the physical side of medicine. Likewise, the overcrowding, the lack of funding, the lack of doctors, the long hours, and, as a result, the lack of compassion, weakens our trust on their judgement and level of care.

The ER is often flooded by people with anxiety. Panic attacks are huge in the ER. Other things are as well: one man started screaming they were taking his ribs and started throwing all the hospital shit around, hopped over the bed like a fucking PRO (I’m pretty sure the guy was superhuman; he probably believes that too), and started trashing the counters. A bunch of nurses ran to him, some doctors as well, and another nurse shouted across the hall for someone to get the Haldol.

They’re not not used to mental health. But they do have one job and one job only: Calm. Them. Down. And when you’re a physician in a busy ER room, that means assumptions and quick medications.

The problem here–well, there are a lot of problems. But one problem I see next to all the sociological issues (i.e, funding, hours, system of management . . .) is a problem rooted in stereotypes and the way we speak about mental health. If what you’re taught in medical school is that something like anxiety is primarily biological but still somehow just “all in their head” then when you see it, you think you know all about it. When you think you know all about it, you think you can recognize it anywhere. And when you think you can recognize it anywhere, you start confusing Dercum’s Disease with a Panic Attack.

It’s also very easy to ride off someone who has a “mental disorder” because it’s a “disorder”. They’re sick. Let them be sick, give them medication, and get them out of here. Go with the quickest fix: the motto of this era.

I said a long time ago people need to stop calling for “mental disorders” to be treated like physical problems because that already happens–and that’s not a good thing people. That’s why we have categories for people’s “broken brains” to fit into. That’s why psychiatry is a “medical” discipline. Mental health has been treated like physical sickness since the DSM 3.

x-ray-broken-leg-20147835If you snap your shin bone, a surgeon goes in, puts some plates in, some screws, you go through recovery, and you know what? The person next to you who also broke their shin bone had the same procedure. Sure, maybe theirs was a little different: their shin bone is a different size, their blood pressure was a little higher, maybe they’ll have more pain after the surgery and in recovery e.t.c. But the procedure is the same, the plates are the same material, and the reason both surgeries were generally low risk and successful were because those surgeons have done that same thing hundreds of times–you got lucky with the experienced ones.

If you have a psychotic break, and your neighbor has a psychotic break, they are going to be 99.999999999999999999% different. If not that, 100% different. The brain isn’t a shin bone people, you can’t slap the same old treatments to everyone and expect different results! That’s insanity. That’s treating mental health like physical health. So keep campaigning. You’re wasting your time, it’s already like that. 

The more mental health is medically categorized, the more it’s shoved into a tiny box of qualifications, the more disregarded we’ll be. Because that little box you get shoved into has a label on the side of it and when the top is closed, professionals don’t really get a chance to see you. You think having a mental health diagnosis gets you taken seriously? Please, spare me the bullshit. You’re not looking for someone to agree that you’re sick and broken and ill. You’re looking to have someone acknowledge what you go through is very real and painful. You’re looking for healthy validation of your feelings.

That often doesn’t come with diagnosis.

What do people say after they get told what “disorder” they have? ” I get it now. I knew something was wrong with me!” 

If having a mental health diagnosis made a difference for the better, Dercum’s disease wouldn’t have been the new word for “panic attack” so quickly.





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