As an official Crazy Person, I’m all for laughing at ourselves. It makes the hard stuff a little bit easier. But when other people use stigma as an excuse to laugh at us, that makes this Crazy Person very unimpressed, because stigma isn’t funny.
Canada’s public broadcaster, the CBC, seems to do a pretty good job of picking up on mental health stories; not long ago they’d written about a man with bipolar disorder who was unceremoniously turfed from an ER after going in for severe pain. I recently saw a story on CBC News about Jessica Richardson, a woman in the Canadian province of New Brunswick who’d made a complaint about her psychiatrist. She has a diagnosis of PTSD, and she was concerned about how her psychiatrist was handling her treatment, particularly with regards to medications.
She submitted a complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick. In response, she received a dismissive email from the College registrar, Ed Schollenberg. The CBC article included these excerpts from that response:
Patients often are unhappy with their psychiatrists. Probably because they are unhappy about everything I guess.
Just get in his face politely. And get back to me if there remains a problem.
Ms. Richardson responded, calling his email “unprofessional.” Mr. Schollenberg then apologized, saying his email was a “weak attempt at humour.”
To give a bit of extra background, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick is the regulatory body for doctors in the province that’s responsible for licensing and ensuring doctors are meeting their professional practice standards. The registrar runs the show, so that’s a very powerful position, meaning this kind of amateur hour should not be happening.
“Patients often are unhappy with their psychiatrists.” Is that true? Maybe. Even if it is, why is that a reason to dismiss the patient perspective? Why doesn’t that get turned around to question whether there are too many asshole psychiatrists? I would say that’s as least as likely as there being too many whiny patients.
“Probably because they are unhappy about everything I guess.” Presumably this is his best in show for comedy routine. Could he not have come up with anything a little more original? Perhaps “probably because they’re too busy going on a psycho killer shooting spree?” Or maybe this is a little toxic positivity shining through. If you can’t be happy, you must be crazy!
“Just get in his face politely.” Although watch out, get it wrong and you could be getting a one-way ticket to the loony bin.
Health care can do better. People with their amateur comedian head up their ass should not be in a position where they can make decisions about what happens with patient complaints. Mental illness stigma isn’t funny. We may be crazy, but we’re here, we’re not going anywhere, and what we have to say matters.