Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

The Medical Profession Still Doesn’t Take Womens’ Mental Health Seriously

A doctor has been suspended for telling a patient to kill herself. The case has taken three years to come before the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service. It started in 2011 when a woman patient went to the doctor about her medication and suicidal ideation. The doctor told her to go home and kill herself.

'Shocking, in this day and age', people might say. 'What was the doctor thinking?' 'He ought to be struck off,' Others might say. Some people might defend the doctor. 'He was probably just joking'. 'The woman was being oversensitive'. 'Lighten up!' 'Don't take it too seriously.'

The incident may have been disbelieved; after all, this woman went to the doctor about her depression. We know all about those people, don't we? They're all nut jobs. She probably made it up, or imagined it, or in a delusional state, decided to make trouble for the good doctor. You know what these nutters are like. Bloody loonies. Should all be locked up for the trouble they cause. AND she was a witness in a rape case. So she's mad, bad AND probably dangerous to know!

Yes, people still make comments like that. They still treat mental health as a joke, a problem, as long as it's not their problem. And women, well! We all know they can be particularly hysterical, always making a fuss over Page 3 when it's just a bit of fun! And so a woman, with a mental illness? Well! It's a double whammy! She's BOUND to be lying, or at the very least, making a mountain out of a molehill! Because when a woman with mental illness presents to a physician, and the physician abuses her, the onus of blame and the onus of proof is placed on the woman, even though the woman is the victim. It is still on her to prove that the doctor has behaved unacceptably. It is still the woman's burden to prove she has been abused, be it in court, at tribunal, or in a doctor's surgery.

I am in no doubt that this woman would have been disbelieved, had it not been for the fact she had recorded the doctor telling her to kill herself. He even 'advised' her that she could look up methods of suicide on websites. 'You can jolly well go and do it now,' he said. Well, jolly hockeysticks. Wasn't that jolly decent of the good doctor?

From the consultation in 2011 to tribunal in 2014, it took three years for this woman to finally achieve justice from the medical profession. Only it wasn't justice. The doctor was suspended for three months.

Let me say that again, just in case you thought you read it wrong.

The doctor was suspended for THREE MONTHS.

You might be surprised. I mean, she recorded him! It was all there, his voice and everything, telling her to kill herself! And so it was. But this is the thing; when you have a mental health issue, the default position of many healthcare professionals is to equate mental illness with unreliability. Unreliability of thought, of action, of intent, of experience. They don't do it consciously, at least I hope they don't. But in treating you, they can bring their ingrained stigma of mental illness, and their ingrained ableism around disability, into every interaction, because even though they have excellent medical training, they may not have had such good mental health awareness training. They may have learned all about psychiatric illnesses, but they may not have learned all about open, non judgemental interaction with psychiatric patients. Thus the GP, who learns about general medicine, when presented with a depressed and suicidal patient, may not have so much in-depth knowledge of how to interact with that person. However, there is no excuse for horrific treatment of a patient just because you happen not to understand their illnesw or their suffering. In that case, the doctor has an absolute responsibility to rein in his 'Me doctor, me know everything' mentality, and go and get himself bloody well educated.

And let's face it, some doctors really shouldn't be doctors. They're either not good with people, they don't care about people, or they don't care AND they happen to be crap at what they do.

A diagnosis of mental illness can suddenly mean you are no longer treated as a viable or reliable witness, in any sphere of your life. If you have a headache, it's all in your head. If you have a muscular condition that causes such severe leg cramps that you can barely walk, it's all in your head. Fibroids? All in your head. Broken arm? All in your head. Yes, that really happened to someone. Remember, you are officially a lunatic. Nothing you say, do, feel, or experience, is of any value, because it's all a figment of your damaged mind. Suicidal? No! Attention seeking! Send the nutter home with instructions to off themselves. That'll show 'em. Of course, they won't REALLY go home and kill themselves, because nothing they say can be believed. So what the hell, make a joke of it! Give them the address of a suicide website! That'll be a right laugh!

Perhaps that's why the accused doctor couldn't be bothered to turn up to the tribunal. Maybe he reckoned his esteemed colleagues would naturally take his side against a poor, deluded woman and rule in his favour. And in a way he was right, because in a way they did. Despite the evidence of the recording, the tribunal only saw fit to administer what can only be described as the tap of a butterfly's wing on the doctor's wrist. He'll probably be at home, maybe on full or half pay, planning a nice holiday now that he's finally got some free time, pottering in the garden, playing a few holes on the golf course, having dinner parties where he'll regale his friends with his heroic tale of Tough Love, or How I Told A Vulnerable Lady To Top Herself And Thus Used Reverse Psychology To Save Her Life.

Only, Mr. Doctor Man, you didn't save her life. You made her life worse. Because of you, she endured three years of hell. And what's sickening is the fact that it'll only take you three months to forget it.

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2 thoughts on “The Medical Profession Still Doesn’t Take Womens’ Mental Health Seriously

  • Michael Weipert says:

    Having suffered for a lifetime with mental health problems I can only say that this is the most appaling case I think I have read. Three years to a tribunal and then three months suspension. I am really glad you write about cases such as these and because the triggers in a longer comment are possible for me I shall write no more except to say thank you.

    • Zhivila Agbah says:

      Thankyou for reading it. I hope you weren’t too triggered by the slur words, I used them for sarcastic purposes. I too have a long history of mental health issues and I am as appalled as you are that this ‘doctor’ was essentially let off when he should have been struck off. Hopefully doctors like him are being replaced by healthcare workers who have a greater understanding of and empathy towards people like us, who rely on care and sensitivity when at our most vulnerable.