Neglecting chronic illnesses in mental health care
TW/CW: This article includes reference to suicide.
Ignorance of idiopathic hypersomnia and other rare diseases contributes to the neglect of chronic illnesses in mental health care. | Photo credit: ©tugolukof / Adobe Stock
Neglecting chronic illnesses in mental health care
AV Nordgren explores their mistreatment as a patient with chronic physical illness in the realm of psychiatric care.
I was released from overnight observation in the ER's mental health crisis unit earlier today. To tell you the truth, I do feel a bit better, but not entirely. There's this line from Virginia Woolf's suicide note– the first line– it sticks with me even now; it echoes inside my head, reverberating, ringing.
Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again…
That's what it feels like, isn't it? This endless cycle of relapse, recovery, relapse, recovery– there's no destination here, only the long ardors of the journey you never wanted to take in the first place. Let me tell you something: at Bridgeport Hospital, there's this bench in the ER. It's nothing special, I suppose, but this bench has become a central part of my life. It's almost like it has its own gravity. I keep returning to it, again & again & again.
The first time I sat on this bench, I was seventeen years old, and it was Halloween night. My mother was with me, and she wouldn't stop crying. I felt guilty, but the guilt was fuzzy along the edges, like it didn't actually matter.
Back then, nothing mattered.
Eventually, the triage nurse called me into the room, asked me questions, and took my vitals.
She sent me to the crisis unit, where I would remain until the following afternoon before being transferred to the pediatric wing of the psychiatric hospital in Westport. Three years later, I was back on that bench, lingering just within eyesight of the police officers stationed in the Emergency Room.
Things still didn't matter.
Relapse and recovery cycle
"You & I, we were born to die…"
At this point in my life, I am twenty-four, living with my partner for many years, and in grad school to get my MSLIS. I am still mentally ill. At the very least, I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and severe depression. Today, I went to therapy and said, "I think I'm in a depressive episode." My therapist, L, told me to contact my psychiatrist to adjust my meds.
I do not want to go back to the hospital.
Idiopathic Hypersomnia vs Narcolepsy Type II
"How hard it is to sleep in the middle of a life."
"i don't want to die, i just want to lie on the road for a little bit."
My chronic illnesses was neglected while in mental health care
Not every mental health patient is able-bodied
I am aware that the psychiatric healthcare system is somewhat inundated with patients. Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that the mental health of community members has rapidly spiraled. I suppose that makes sense, given the millions of people– friends, colleagues, family, lovers– that have died, given the continual threat looming over us of our own decline and deaths.
You cannot put a whole world in isolation– even to protect themselves– without there being consequences. The consequences were rising domestic violence rates, higher rates of suicide, and worsening depression and anxiety.
I remember that my partner once told me I have an End Of The World mentality. I told him that's because, for me, the world has never not been ending. During COVID, it felt like the end of the world, not just for me, but for all of us.
& is that any excuse? Just because you have an influx of psych patients, does that justify not giving them adequate care? Just because some of those patients have chronic illnesses– & some of those illnesses are rare– is that any reason to deny them their prescribed medications?
At the end of the day, the facts are these: the psychiatric hospitals and emergency departments for those in crisis are being flooded with patients, and they don't have the time to give each and every patient the care they need and deserve; because of this, especially when a patient has a chronic physical illness, we get neglected. This is not the way things should be. If they need more staff, hire more staff. Ask us or our prescribing doctors if they need to know what our medications are for. If they don't understand something, they must seek further education.
Not every mental health patient is able-bodied.
Denying patients their necessary medications because you do not understand their function is not just ableism; it is malpractice. Do better.
BPD Gratitude: How does Borderline Personality Disorder contribute to my sensitive writing skills as a writer?
AV Nordgren (they/them), the author of "Neglecting chronic illnesses in mental health care," is a queer young adult from rural Appalachia currently residing in New England. They have a BA in English Literature with minors in both Art History and Gender Studies and are currently a graduate student studying Library & Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They also have an unhealthy obsession with Charles Dickens, Star Trek, and all things magical.