Talking To Mental Health Patients

Male psychiatrist sitting on couch talking to patient with hands on head

Holding A Normal Conversation

Many mental health patients are sick of their doctors, friends and family members always asking them questions about their illness. Imagine always being asked the same questions, “Any auditory or visual hallucinations? Do you believe others can put thoughts into your mind? How’s your mood? Do you have any anxiety? How’s your sleep and appetite?” It not only feels robotic to ask them the same questions every day, but it also feels robotic for them to provide the same responses.

Don’t get me wrong; psychiatrists do need to ask these questions in order to assess patients’ mental status, but we also need to learn how to incorporate more normal conversations during our encounters. When we ask mental health patients the same questions every time we see them, it can make them feel like they are less than us. This is because we give them the impression that they are “different” and that we can’t hold normal conversations with them.

At the end of the day, mental illness or not, patients are still human beings who can hold normal conversations and discuss everyday events; we must treat them like so. You’ll bring much more happiness into their lives if you can discuss everyday events without jumping to questions that dig away at their symptoms. A patient will tell you their symptoms even if you don’t rush to those particular questions, because they are the ones suffering from the symptoms in the first place and need them addressed.

So let them discuss everyday events and address their symptoms at their own pace. This applies to whether you have a relationship or friendship with a patient; don’t look at them differently and definitely don’t treat them differently. Do you treat people with diabetes differently? The same applies with mental health patients. Even if they are extremely psychotic but not dangerous to anyone, you can still say something as simple as, “Hi Leonard! Hope you have a good day.”

At the end of the day, let’s normalize mental health and hold normal everyday conversations with each other. Forget the stigma and judgmental ways of the past; those need to be buried for good. Rather, let’s move forward together and create a worldwide platform that will be of help to anyone in need. This platform should be based on honesty, love, sincerity and the desire to improve and help one another.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

When Patients Cry

Sad black woman crying with hand on face

We Are Human Too

Whether cancer patients, intellectually disabled patients or behavioral health patients, one thing remains in common for all of them: the deep feelings which they experience on a daily basis. The familiar uphill battle which they face every day, involving digesting their diagnosis, taking their medications and maintaining a smile on their faces, is what makes their experiences more difficult than others. And for all of those reasons, patients sometimes need to release, and that release comes in the form of tears.

Society does a great job at looking down upon crying, especially when it comes to men. Men are supposed to be masculine creatures who only display strength and leadership. And if they are caught displaying feminine traits or acts such as crying, they are looked down upon.

But crying has nothing to do with gender; it has to do with being human! We all experience emotions, pain, difficulties and even mental illness. Most of us can relate to being a patient in the hospital at one point in our lives; not necessarily a mental health patient, but anything related to being sick or injured.

We have all experienced what it feels like to be admitted to a hospital and to be thrown into a gown for several days. Now imagine the many patients who remain in the hospital for months at a time, some even for years in state psychiatric hospitals! Do you still look down upon men who cry?

Being a patient is one of the most difficult roles experienced by a person: you lose your confidence, you’re filled with worry and you place your hope onto the hands of another person. For mental health patients, not only are they in the hospital or following up as outpatients, but they have their mental struggles to deal with on a daily basis.

And even for people who aren’t patients, crying is a natural process that is very normal to experience. When we cry, we are processing our emotions and painful thoughts, and shedding them away in the form of physical tears. But when we hold ourselves back from crying, we are containing the negative emotions and pain within, worsening our overall well-being.

Whether it’s our tears dripping down our faces or our patients’, at the end of the day, we are human too.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

We Are The Patients’ Family

Three persons looking down on their colorful sneakers

Interaction With Psychiatric Patients

Some psychiatric patients have been institutionalized for so long, that they no longer have a family on the outside. Their family has either moved on and away from their lives, have passed away, or simply feel distant and disconnected from them. After many years of hospitalization, the psychiatrists and the team have become the patients family.

Many patients have different goals and objectives. Some patients are goal-oriented and comply with the team’s instructions: they take medications, attend groups, follow instructions and are working towards discharge. But some patients are too psychotic to even take a shower or utilize the toilet; these are the ones who end up staying institutionalized for years or even life.

Some patients avoid prison time by malingering that they have a mental illness. They will literally feign symptoms, in order to convince the court to send them to a psychiatric institute to serve the rest of their time. These patients may have an underlying mental illness, but not the one they are obviously feigning.

And then there are the patients who have a mental illness, are functioning and not symptomatic at the moment, but refuse to be discharged because they have no where else to go. Some of these patients do not even have a family anymore. They are so comfortable living in the psychiatric hospital, that it has become their home and we have become their family!

No matter what situation or state of mind a psychiatric patient is in, the primary team adopts a family role in most patients eyes. We are the ones providing medication, comfort, treatment plans, diets, mental and physical support, encouragement, time and care!

The moment that you see their eyes harboring a release of tears, is the moment that you come to the realization that we are in fact their family!

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)