Personal Views

Learning to live with the label of psychiatric illness

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 02 December 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1511
  1. Justine Carr-Brion, former general practitioner
  1. London

    Problems of mental health in the medical profession seem to be a fashionable topic in the BMJ. I am another sufferer, but what worries me most is not my treatment when ill, but the discriminatory label about being a “psychiatric patient” and the effects that this has when I am dealing with non-psychiatric staff.

    I have had recurrent attacks of severe depression since 1990. These have usually consisted of rapid descent to a suicidal state, though the physical and mental retardation made attempts to kill myself difficult. I had been on all the antidepressant drugs available in various combinations. My final attempt led to a cardiac arrest, but unfortunately I was in a hospital and I was resuscitated. I am afraid the staff got no praise from me. At this point I was referred for psychosurgery. (No, I did not know it still existed either.) I was on a neurology ward, the operation was performed, and I had no problems.

    This, however, gave me one of my first insights as to what a “psychiatric” label meant. The sister was talking to one of the consultant neurologists during his ward round, when she started complaining about having psychiatric patients on a medical ward, and the fact that they did not have the facilities to care for us. What facilities she envisaged I do not know, as we all suffered from affective disorders and were among the quietest patients on the ward, and being a …

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