This week is the 68th Mental Health Week founded by the Canadian Mental Health Association! That’s a whole heck lot of talkin’, learnin’ and awareness buildin’ about mental health!

My contribution this year is shedding some light on psychosis in the hopes it will increase compassion. I wrote this for my Psychology Today blog a few years ago, but it bears repeating.

Dear Hospital Emergency Ward Staff,

When you see me in a manic high, wrestled in here by my father; or as you watch my mother, sitting with me in the waiting area, holding my hand while I ramble gibberish to an invisible friend, please remember this: I may be crazy but I can hear. I may be mad but I can see. I may be insane but I’m still smart.

I can see you rolling your eyes when my behavior is bizarre. I can hear you when you shout to the security guard to ‘catch the crazy woman’ as I fly to find some scissors. I know you’re referring to me when you look at me but whisper to your colleague, then purse your lips and shake your head.

I don’t want to be running around the emergency ward in florid psychosis looking for God. I don’t want to be strapped to a gurney needing sedatives to calm the fire in my brain while I scream for the Mother Ship to beam me up.

Maybe it’s because you’re burned out, under-resourced, over-taxed, understaffed and over-stressed. But, I am a human being before I’m a ‘frequent flyer’, the ‘nut case who must be on drugs’, that patient who can wait because ‘she’s non-compliant’.

I understand that I’m hard to understand and hard to manage. I know your job is trying; that you do your best; that you do care. But please don’t forget that just like you, I have a heart. A heart that hurts when someone judges me for something that isn’t in my control; when someone doesn’t see that really I’m doing everything I can to get well even though it doesn’t look that way.

Because I also feel when you, the paramedic who wheels me through the hospital doors, stream such soft compassion from your eyes and gently nod goodbye to me. I sense when you, the nurse whose name I do not know, rests your hand on my shoulder with such respect that dignity rises from my feet.

So please remember, even when I’m laughing like a drunken hyena, and my father paces the green linoleum while my mother strangles her panicked hands, and all three of us wait for the attending doctor, I am aware of the kind light in your face as you tell us (including me) that you wish there was more you could do but hopefully it shouldn’t be much longer. No matter how crazy I may be, I am aware. And when your heart remembers that, my heart does too.

Let me know what you think. What has it been like for you if you’ve been in a psychosis or if you’ve been with someone while they’ve been in one?

© Victoria Maxwell

2 replies
  1. Jo
    Jo says:

    what an awesome letter and how highly important and appropriate for you to present it for mental health week, to your subscribers. Thank you!

    I am going to step away from stigma, but like to take opportunity to comment further on eye opening personal hospital experience, relative to having my family member admitted at the hospital owing to severe mental illness.

    It seems to me that Hospitals are so imperative for severe mental illness but enormously and tragically inadequate in coping with it and the low level status of funding to support it.

    My extremely unwell family member, spent 5 days locked in a cell in the high security area of the emergency ward, waiting for a bed in the psychiatric unit. Not because he was violent or beyond control, but because my family member was at risk of wandering away from the hospital. My family member was overseen and inadequately supported by peace officers that guarded the emergency secured area 24 hours a day. Other individuals secured in this area, were criminals that were brought in by police. How is it that an extremely unwell person with mental illness, be secured in an area with criminals? My family member could not understand why he was put in a hospital secure cell and kept asking what he had done wrong?

    When a bed became available in the psychiatric unit, my family member was placed in a room shared with 5 other patients and one bathroom. There was a flimsy cotton sheet placed between each crammed in bed.

    Each person in that room had their own unique challenges and varying mental illnesses. How can one recover and get the critically necessary and adequate rest in horrific circumstances?

    I cannot say enough about the medical staff however. We were fortunate to get some of the best quality treatment, from the exhausted, minimal staff on the unit. I will always be grateful for this saving grace.

    The unit itself had not been modified or upgraded since 1970, when it became available to assigned as a psychiatric unit.

    My family member spent 11 months admitted under the appalling circumstances of this unit.

    Each day, I would park my car in the parking lot at the hospital and walk over to the building where the psychiatric unit was located to visit my family member.
    As I walked along, I would pass ongoing construction of a brand new, multi billion dollar, world class cancer centre and further along the construction of a multi million dollar flashy new car parkade.

    I find it absolutely shocking and unacceptable that this can happen, and funding cannot be provided to the psychiatric unit to put a fresh coat of paint on the walls or to bring in an additional medical staff member.

    I addressed letters of concern to relevant politicians and services, all returned to me recommending I address it somewhere else.

    Mental illness does not appear to hold the glamour that cancer does tragically.

    • Victoria
      Victoria says:

      Thank you for sharing your heartfelt experience. I’m sorry that you and your family member had to undergo this. It’s true – mental illness is the poor cousin of the healthcare ‘system’. If cancer units and cancer patients were given the same low priority and funding as psychiatric units and psychiatric patients, people would be outraged. Hopefully this will change, but it can’t change soon enough. It’s long overdue. Warm wishes, Victoria


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