Warning, this post contains material that may be triggering to others; reader discretion is advised. The options expressed In this article How To Affect Change are those of the writer.
Empathy: it’s a term that is tossed around often in conversation. But what does it mean? Well, simply put, it’s the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. While in college, the need to be empathic was drilled into our heads. When you are a counsellor, being able to sense others’ emotions, is essential. This is how we effect change in the lives of the ill.
Once you learn how to empathize with others, a whole new world opens up. This new world is amazing because it can help to minimize any judgments you may have towards not only those who sit across from you seeking your help. It can help you to look at all people in a more equal light. Ultimately, it bolstered my belief that everyone has value.
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Similarly, my counselling education taught me so much about helping those with mental illness. Having a mental-health condition is serious and should be treated as such, always!
I am grateful for having learned to take mental health as seriously as any other medical condition. Not only has it made me a better helper but it’s also helped me to be kinder to myself; understanding the core principles that make mental illness tick allows me to see that John the person and John’s PTSD or John’s depression are two different things.
Sadly, not everyone is able to sperate themselves from their illness. There are many factors that make one feel like their disorder is part of their identity. They include:
- The symptoms themselves. Many mental disorders produce irritability, for example; this can cause conflict with others, making one feel like a bad person.
- Stigma. Not everyone understands or cares to quite frankly. Having an encounter with stigma can re-enforce symptoms, making you want to retreat from the world and making you feel less than you are.
Of course, there are many other things that can impact people who are ill. But the one I want to focus on is the resistance from the physical-health side of things. I am speaking of some doctors, nurses and other professionals charged with the care of sick people. Now, it has to be said, that most health-care professionals are awesome! What I am talking about here is the enormous burden on them; it’s no easy task and the majority of the ones I have encountered are kind, compassionate and do what they can.
However, I have the impression that many health-care professionals have two separate views on illness: the physical disease model is of the utmost priority while mental-health treatment is considered a low priority, if it’s on the radar at all. This is likely due to the amount of physical-health training they have compared to mental-health training.
Moreover, the notion that a mental-health emergency is somehow not as worthy indicates to me a lack of understanding. When someone walks into an ER and bravely tells a doctor or nurse that they want to kill themselves, that should be seen in the same light as someone in the ER who has coded from a heart attack. Both can be life or death.
Those who come in, in a mental-health crisis can and indeed should be treated accordingly. They require a different set of skills; those of active listening, a calm voice and you guessed it, empathy. Additionally, suicide intervention training and protocols must be followed.
In other words, if a person presents with suicidal ideation, they should be kept for observation. And, if they tell you they have a plan, this should not only be taken seriously; it’s imperative that it’s seen as an emergency. Find them a bed until they can access the mental-health services they need.
We need to do better. Mental illness is a growing epidemic(1) and our ER’s like that of any medical emergency are our first line of defence. Of course, it would be irresponsible to rest the entire blame on the medical and mental-health establishments. After all, their respective fields have been butchered by government cuts. To learn more on how we can bolster the system, click the link below. Please, take care of yourself, hang in there and most importantly, keep fighting. Let’s learn how we can effect change.
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