Lessons Learned From Years Of Working Inside The Mental Health System


Art­work by Ravi Thornton

A short piece touch­ing on some of the les­sons learned from years of work­ing with­in the men­tal health sys­tem.

So it’s “Men­tal Health aware­ness week”. This year it seems more people are open­ing up and shar­ing their struggles. We are def­in­itely in the begin­nings of a cul­ture shift when it comes to men­tal health being taboo. This is no doubt the fruits of labour from the hard work of count­less advoc­ates over the past few years. If you feel that you could bene­fit from addi­tion­al men­tal health sup­port, click here.

I per­son­ally have been in the men­tal health game for 5 years pro­fes­sion­ally, and a fur­ther 5 years through edu­ca­tion. Through­out my time in the psych world, I have learnt some import­ant les­sons which I believe is valu­able for all of us to know.

Les­son 1. My bach­el­or degree meant noth­ing.

Two years in col­lege, four years at uni­ver­sity — and I drew more from my exper­i­ences as a boun­cer than I did with the the­or­ies and mod­els I learnt in the lec­ture hall. Why a per­son ends up in the men­tal health sys­tem is more com­plex than a the­ory devised in the 1970s can com­pre­hend. My post-gradu­ate degree was use­ful, but again, it poorly equipped me with the real­ity of help­ing people. My real edu­ca­tion was work­ing in the front line of men­tal health ser­vices. So when work­ing with a prac­ti­tion­er, look for their abil­ity to under­stand you — not how pres­ti­gi­ous their cre­den­tials are (but still always make sure they are trained to the min­im­um stand­ard).

Les­son 2. Drugs are the primary and sec­ond­ary option in health­care.

Depressed? Take drugs! Going through psy­chos­is? Take drugs! Are the anti-psychot­ics caus­ing you extreme side effects? Take more drugs! Altern­at­ive ther­apies are all too often the less­er used options in the “one-drug fits all” med­ic­al mod­el. Fur­ther­more, it is now clear from using this mod­el for dec­ades, that drugs only serve to sup­press men­tal health prob­lems, it can­not cure them.

Les­son 3. The sys­tem is only really there to stop you from harm­ing your­self and oth­ers.

Any­thing extra is a bonus but should not be expec­ted. If you want to help someone, work around the sys­tem. Too many people call for change in the sys­tem, but ignore how much of a pos­it­ive impact they can have at the ground level. It takes pas­sion­ate indi­vidu­als to make change, not the per­fect policy.

All of this cre­ates a sys­tem where vul­ner­able people end up locked in small wards, pumped full of drugs, and shipped off back into their tough lives at first sign of recov­ery. Long term patients end up devel­op­ing fur­ther dis­orders like depres­sion, social anxi­ety, agora­pho­bia, drug depend­ency, dia­betes and much more dur­ing their treat­ment. Are we not sup­posed to go hos­pit­al to get rid of dis­orders, not pick up extra ones?

In the pro­cess, we can also end up los­ing our iden­tity. An upcom­ing rap­per can slowly become known only as Patient A with schizo­phrenia. A tal­en­ted artist can become Patient B with bipolar. An abused per­son becomes Patient C who self harms. It can be hard to remem­ber who you was before it all began.

So. From all my exper­i­ence and les­sons, what can I offer you to help keep your­self men­tally strong? How can you avoid los­ing your­self in a sys­tem of drugs and cost cal­cu­la­tions?

Well. First I would recom­mend you find your voice. Make sense of your story and learn how to com­mu­nic­ate it bet­ter. I can give you a long list of books to read and ther­apy tech­niques to try — but in my opin­ion there is no ini­tial step bet­ter than using your own strengths and famil­i­ar lan­guage to com­mu­nic­ate your needs. Wheth­er it be through writ­ing a few bars, paint­ing a pic­ture, cam­paign­ing for a cause or some­thing else — find what langauge works for you.

Once you find your voice, use it to make sense of your story. Then, if one day you find your­self in the men­tal health sys­tem, you will have your voice to see through and help retain your iden­tity.

Use your voice to build your own ther­apy and tools that works for you. Don’t rely on an over stretched sys­tem that can only provide the min­im­um of drugs and 10 minutes with a psy­chi­at­rist once a week.

You are the strongest asset and most know­ledge­able expert on your road of recov­ery.

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Merz is No Bounds’ well-being lead. A long­time hip hop head with sev­er­al years exper­i­ence in men­tal health. He is also founder of a vegan Mac & Cheese food truck @lazyboykitchen .

About Merz

Merz is No Bounds' well-being lead. A longtime hip hop head with several years experience in mental health. He is also founder of a vegan Mac & Cheese food truck @lazyboykitchen .