Connections: Pillars to Recovery

Tara (Way back when): “I am purging everything I eat but I still feel fat.”

Psychiatrist (For only two weeks): “Well, you must be eating something because you’re not losing weight.”

Conversations like this should not happen - in general - but especially not with mental health professionals. Not only did I feel offended by this Psychiatrist’s ignorant comment, I felt alone.  Feeling alone is a vulnerable and scary place in my mind – in all of our minds, I think. I no longer trusted this person with the thoughts and emotions that I had been hiding for so long. He had just validated (in my mind) that I was worthless and obviously fat.

As Erikson et. al (2014) stated in a recent journal article, “Openness meant being free to speak without fearing the consequences…” Not being able to have an open conversation has a snowball effect and can lead to more problems; where something seemingly small leads to something bigger again and again, causing the outcome to be somewhat disastrous.

In my case, the Psychiatrist’s lack of understanding made me feel isolated and being isolated only perpetuated my negative thoughts relating to the meaning of my life and my identity.

“I am all alone. I am completely misunderstood. Nobody knows what it’s like.”
“My life will always be a disaster and I am never going to be able to make a difference in this stupid world anyway, so why bother?”

It snowballed further. My already fragile sliver of hope was diminished. There were no glimpses of a positive future, or even a future at all.

At Ontario Shores, we work with patients every day to assess them, to try and understand them, and to help them, but are we connecting with them? Instead of interpreting everything they are saying as symptoms, instead of taking notes and checking BlackBerrys during our visits, are we looking them in the eye and saying something sincerely, even if it is as simple as “I hear you are really sad right now and I want to help”?

If we’re not aiming to connect, we’re not aiming for our patients to recover either.

Empowerment should start with staff, by saying “You are not alone” in a genuine and caring way. You would have begun a connection with the patient and though it will take time, this is where the foundation of recovery is built. In our willingness to be open to the thoughts that patients may be terrified of sharing with us, in an empathetic and non-judgmental way, we are de-isolating and offering hope.  This is the connection necessary to help our patients recover.
Interesting Article:
Erikson, K.A., Arman, M., Davidson, L., Sundfor, B., & Karlsson, B. (2014). Challenges in relating to mental health professionals. Perspectives of persons with server mental illness. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 23, 110-117.