I Have The Right To Be Treated With Dignity

I must intellectualize this to cut my emotion.

The side walls are gray. Flat paint on the rough surface. The drop ceiling must be 10 feet high, at least. I feel small, but I might be able to touch both walls with my fingertips, from where I’m sitting.

Health Center Office

The far walls make this a five-sided office. They are at weird angles. That might be what sent my discomfort over the top. They are light beige. The one on my right is longer than the one on my left. The air is still, odorless. This place resembles the concrete box that a coffin is placed in.

On my left, slightly behind me, is a picture. Art work, sort of. A mass-produced copy of a watercolor portrait of a couple of kids. On hardboard. Hanging crooked. Below it is a sliding glass window, with a desk on the other side of the wall, with chairs facing the window, and another window like it on the other side of the small, unoccupied office. My neck hurts when I turn toward it.

On the cabinet that was placed against the far wall – the longer one – is two photos. One of a young boy, framed. Probably a school picture. Beside it is one of a young girl, slightly older, propped up in front of something framed (maybe an older photo of her?).

“ID and insurance card?” she asks. I take them out, and slide them across the desk to woman on the other side. I make my breath go as deeply as I can. It won’t go past the top buttoned-up-button on my shirt. I try to push a breath down into my belly. It won’t go.

I uncross my legs to plant my feet firmly on the floor to help me feel grounded. No carpet to settle my feet into. Hard vinyl flooring. It is a dark pattern. Abstract. Angular shapes of grays and tans. These colors might be known for subduing people, but I’m not feeling it. These sedating colors are making me impatient to get out of here. To anywhere. To outside. To sunshine and green and lively colors and traffic.

My breath is deeper now.

“Sign here.” She untangles its cord as she slides an electronic signature pad toward me.

“What am I signing?”

“Forms.”

“I think I should read the forms before I sign them?” I try to look at her quizzically, but I can’t see her face over the top of her computer monitor, even though I’m tall. I have to lean way over to the side to see around it. Leaning sideways makes me feel dizzy in this room.

One of the papers says that I will behave myself, do what I’m told, not carry firearms in this building… I never had to sign paperwork like this before. I tell the woman, “Do you know that studies show that people with mental illness diagnoses are less likely to be criminals, break laws, or attack other people than the general public?” She sputters a response of doubt.

Decision For Dignity

This is not where I want to seek help with my recovery from my mental illness, even though this is the only place, within a two hours’ drive from my home, where I have found psychiatrists who accept Medicare health insurance and new patients. I wish that my insurance covered the psychiatrist who has been advising me brilliantly.

I am following one of the options that I discussed with the psychologist: I am asking my physician (who accepts Medicare) to manage my prescriptions for psychiatric medications, as long as I continue to feel well.

Dignity For All

I am using Medicare this year for a few reasons: I save thousands of dollars on health insurance premiums, I want to know what poorer people experience, and I want to support a program that is supposed to provide affordable health care to everyone who qualifies. I also don’t want to support businesses that make large profits on providing essential services to those who can afford to pay the premiums.

When I talked with the intake psychologist who assessed me, and who assigned me to a counselor and a psychiatrist, he said that the paperwork, and a similar sign in the waiting room, were there to help me feel safe.

I would feel safer if the Center would tell us what we can expect, rather than what we can’t do. I feel safer in other professionals’ offices where I see positive affirmations, rather than signing “I shall not” promises that conjure fear.

My thought is, “why do they think that they need me to sign this?” rather than, “I’m glad that all of the patients here had to make these promises.”

The psychologist finally stated that the paperwork and signs were the result of “overpaid lawyers protecting the Center”. As I suspected, it has nothing to do with my feeling safe; it has everything to do with reducing the Center’s liability exposure. Even when they don’t expect people to read the forms that they’re signing.

As far as I recall, when I previously signed in for services at hospital-affiliated health centers, I have received a Patient’s Bill of Rights. I did not receive anything like that from this hospital-affiliated Health Center.

I share my story with the hope of enlightening you who have never been to such a Health Center, and you who go to such places and see nothing wrong. I want everyone to expect to be treated with dignity. Before my intake for outpatient services this week, I heard from health care professionals, and others, that people were really happy with the services that the Center provided. I wasn’t prepared for the psychologist to be derogatory. I want employees at the Center to sign a form that says:

I will behave myself
I will not carry fire arms
I will not raise my voice
I will be patient with you
I will not call you names
I will treat you with dignity

 

Image Credit:
Claustrophobia by Timothy Allen. Used under Creative Commons License BY-SA 2.0. Modified by Grace Buchanan.

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27 thoughts on “I Have The Right To Be Treated With Dignity

    1. Zoe: places? Plural? Horrid! I trust that you have since found healing places.

      I understand that the UK Psychological Society and the US National Institute of Health are rebooting the system with new perspectives on mental health research. Have you been reading or hearing about it?

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  1. These places are the rule, rather than the exception for publically funded lower-income people. Their bottom line is to enforce conformity in behavior at the cheapest possible cost, not to heal and empower. I would detach myself from expectations of help and respect and just use them for essential functions until your next option for other choices rolls around again.
    These clinics reflect the loss of many hard-fought gains won by the last minority to fight for its fundamental civil rights. I remember a time when such places wouldn’t have dared to display the signs you describe – it just makes my blood boil.I hope you will take photos of them.
    It’s very chilling to discover. how quickly certain stereotypes, social bias, drugs, treatment methods and diagnosis were re-adopted 20 years after activists had discredited them.The reckless way in which gun violence is practically juxtaposed with psychiatric labels is deliberate and political – this society know where it can always find a reliable scapegoat.

    You have done a brave job by speaking on behalf of many. Thank-you for that, Grace

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Claire, after this experience, I feel more fortunate than ever that I am participating in a program that was established for publically-funded, lower-income, very-disabled people. It is doing me a world of good, and I love the opportunities to “give back”. It is promoting a model of Recovery, which is one that I am working to understand thoroughly enough to explain it here. This agency is exceptional, especially considering that I live in a county that has been severely under-serving the mentally ill population. The neighboring counties are almost as bad. I’m delighted to be in the program when key people are figuring out how to implement this Recovery model.

      Claire, I appreciate your praise for my courage. I must admit that writing this piece was almost orgasmic: the emotional release was so powerful.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Sreejit, I am glad that you find this “unbelievable”. That indicates that you have never suffered such humiliation at the hands of people who have power over many people’s access to essential services.

      Something that I found uncanny was when my husband (who was waiting in the waiting room) and I compared notes. Apparently my appearance (which I considered to be middle-class) wasn’t what triggered their response to me. He, too, felt ill at ease in the place. He shared my fear that they might lock me up in their inpatient facility. He noticed indications that the facility was on a shoestring budget, in contrast with other glossy areas of the hospital. As you know, even a shoestring budget can provide dignity.

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  2. spent much of my life working
    for the government.
    there are at least some
    people, programs & processes
    that are actually intended
    to be beneficial to participants & the public.
    when unpleasant feelings arise
    may you find balance
    with calm, deep breaths
    & your kind heart’s intention 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, David! I greatly appreciate many government programs, and even
      urge others to share my enthusiasm for paying taxes so we can enjoy certain benefits. (I also protest certain budget decisions)

      I agree that breathing, and focusing on our heart’s intention, are empowering. I like how you encourage that at your blog.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for pointing out the power that we have over our dignity. You remind me that I can see these encounters as practice for growing stronger and healing. I still don’t want to be in that kind of environment, though.

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  3. I am not a fan of our (America’s) new health initiatives by any means. Yes, they are intended to provide services to those who previously went without, and that is good. However, for those who were receiving somewhat decent treatment before, the tables have turned drastically. My mom is on Medicare and I’ve spent the better part of the past two years trying to find her an acceptable doctor, dentist, specialist, etc. These bottom-feeder physicians and organizations give less that a rat’s patooty about the wellbeing of their patients, especially seniors. I’ve been under so much pressure at work due to the time I take off to go with her to physician visits because that is the only way she can get a straight answer or make heads or tails of any given situation. If you’re hard of hearing – they speak softer. If you move slowly – they impatiently rush off. If you just don’t get it – they hand you a “call later” number that no one ever answers, sucking you into an endless automated abyss. If you complain about a serious ailment – they give you an onslaught of medications that don’t fix the problem, nor actually work in harmony together. They are rude and don’t take you seriously, unless someone like me – who isn’t subject to their services – shows up. The VA hospitals are no better… using our distinguished veterans as guinea pigs for blundering students to experiment on, quite frequently resulting in major harm and even death unnecessarily. These people claim to care and be doing a “service” to society via their professions. Instead, they are creating further hopelessness and indignity by prancing about with an air of entitlement attached to a piece of paper which only proves they were able to pass enough exams to be formally recognized by some academic institution. Providing real care and service to human beings involves far more than the ability to hang a piece of framed paper up in a sterile, cold environment of disregard. Anyone who treats others in any capacity should seriously be subject to an ethical and empathetic scale of measurement before having the privilege to influence the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of anyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Grace, I appreciated your sharing this. How much difference it would have made if you had been greeted with a smile and a face you could see! Perhaps that simple action would negate the surroundings. All I can say is thank God our Australian Medicare system is more humane, though I cannot speak for individual mental health facilities. Back when my brother was ‘inside’ I would feel fear as soon as I stepped inside the building. Probably all that mental stress leaves an imprint on the place.

    Stay strong.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “All that mental stress leaves an imprint on the place”

      Yes. The stress of the employees on-guard, and of the visitors vulnerable, outcast, troubled, disoriented, drugged, and ashamed, and of the caregivers conflicted, overextended and misdirected. I send you peace.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for posting this, WG. You and everyone else who needs services needs to be treated with dignity. How disgusting that someone devoid of compassion has been hired to work in this field. So sorry you had to experience this indignity.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Believe it or not, I also feel bad for the woman on the other side of that desk. She may or may not deserve sympathy, but…

    It is very hard to keep any kind of positive attitude in the face of others negativity (I’ve had to struggle not to be “one of those people” who complain all the time)

    She has to spend her entire work day, every day, in the horrible room. And if there are other areas that have better/nicer surroundings in the same building (or with the same employer – it seemed that may be the case from what you wrote), that makes it even harder.

    I would guess metal health workers are highly subject to burnout. As part of my research for my Masters thesis, I did some reading on burnout. One of the first (and worst) symptoms is pigeon-holing others, especially those you are supposed to be helping. People who think like that can be short on giving out compassion and respect.

    And while their services are not quite as vital, you can easily run into the same thing (both the environs and attitude) at nearly any government office. I have seen/felt it at the post office and DMV. And yet, there are those who can rise above – workers at the post offices in Manvel TX and Melrose NY have been happy and helpful – to the point of seeming glad to see me even though they have never met me. While other post offices (both large and small) have had workers (even some who seem to be managers) who seem to be working hard to deny the existence of the people waiting for service.

    I can easily imagine it is much easier to deal with someone trying to mail a package or get a passport, so while it is definitely not a good thing to have intake employees like this, it is understandable.

    It seems the mental health service needs to heed the advice of “physician, heal thyself.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hooray Donna! I cherish your points about the person who registered me.

      I, too, am aware that mental health workers are highly subject to burnout. I see that many are poorly paid and highly challenged to make a difference with scant resources.

      How interesting that you found that pigeon-holing is a symptom, not just a cause, of burnout.

      I, too, see government workers in general burning out. I attribute it to the same reasons that workers in large corporations burn out: both follow procedures dictated from people who are very distant from the front lines, but government workers have the incentive of a pension, and the benefit of more time off.

      Thanks for stopping by, Donna. I wish you well.

      Like

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