Why Don't Doctors Talk About Mental Health - The Unspoken Side Effect of Disability?
In the latest article from writer Becca Torricelli she highlights the lack of mental health training for health professionals dealing with disabled people.
When you have a flare-up of a disability or chronic illness, you present your doctors with the
symptoms you are experiencing. Once they have run various tests, they can make an informed
action plan of how to treat the symptoms.
Much like this process, we can only improve mental health support for disabled people by reviewing the current training system in the medical sector.
Disabled people are three times more likely to experience mental health conditions compared to
able-bodied people. This puts a large strain on the already unprecedented mental health funding
that we need in the UK. So why aren’t medical professionals more concerned about how the mental state of children with disabilities will be when they hit adolescence?
Health professionals are trained to find a 'cure' for a disability and go to any means necessary to improve physical ability. From 18 months old, I was given a standing frame which my parents were told I must use for at least two hours a day. The doctors did not consider the psychological impact that being unable to move and in pain for hours a day would have on a toddler.
At no point was the importance of finding a balance between looking after my body and having a
quality of life ever discussed. When my disability deteriorated, doctors would recommend increasing my physio, or a new, time-consuming treatment. It is the incessant focus on physical treatment, rather than holistic medical care, that has consequences down the line. Altering medical professionals' training to understand this would be a significant step toward receiving psychological support from a young age.
It is often assumed that having a disability from birth is easier as you have never known any
different. This is another reason why mental health in disabled people is an unspoken topic. Doctors can mistake compliance with necessary appointments and procedures as a sign that you are 'coping' with life as a disabled individual. I grew up with this mindset subconsciously ingrained in me by medical professionals.
I was never given the opportunity to understand my emotions. I only learnt in my late teenage years that mourning and grief are a fundamental part of beginning to accept a disability. Only when I began to mourn for the childhood that I didn't get to have and grieve for the physical abilities I lost over the years, did I begin to heal.
I've always wondered how my teenage years would have differed if my mental health had been as natural a discussion as my physical health had been my entire childhood. Would I have had such a fast and unexpected decline? Would I have felt less guilty about it?
One of the issues that must be addressed is the lack of training in the mental health industry on how to work with physically disabled individuals. I spent most of my childhood explaining to medical professionals what my condition meant. When I eventually began therapy, I soon realised that this would be no different. I often spent more time explaining my situation to my therapist than receiving support. This can leave you feeling exhausted and hopeless when you are already in a complex mental state.
Adding a section of training that requires mental health professionals to learn about physical disability would put them in a better position to support disabled people.