As the mother sat in the waiting room, she watched a parade of patients shuffle in and out of the back rooms. No one was back there for very long; and all of them, as they left the psychiatric office, carried one or two or more prescriptions in their hands. No one was particularly happy and no one was particularly odd; but there was a peculiar air to the place that flirted with despair. Her son sat near, not talking, staring ahead with hostility and hatred. And the mother sat, toying with her hands and soaking up the despair – shell shocked by all that had recently transpired, and wondering, “What has happened to my son? And what will happen now?”
It hadn't been easy, this journey to this office. The long and rapid descent. Watching, helplessly and hopelessly. And there was no where and no one to which she could turn. Her son, mislead and misdiagnosed and mistreated by the family doctor. Unable to easily procure an appointment with a psychiatrist. Enduring the mental and physical brunt of her son's illness – weeks of mental decomposition. And now, finally, here, sitting with a flicker of hope and relief and a fantasy. Now they would get answers. They'll work as a team, a united front, this doctor, herself, her husband, her son. And they would find the path toward sanity together. She sighed and weaved her fingers together and then apart. She glanced at her son's rigid profile. Yes. Together, they would find a way.
Then her son's name was called and he disappeared behind closed doors. It was his choice to go alone, he was over eighteen. And the mother waited, alone. Months, maybe years, of uncertainty and there they were – so close to an answer. Anxious and giddy with anticipation, her despair eased away. They will talk; and then they'll call her back. They'll all discuss the options. Lay out the course to recovery . . . She placed her bottom lip between her teeth and nodded with determination.
It wasn't terribly long – less than fifteen minutes and the door opened. Her son did not glance her way, clutching papers in his hands, he stomped past the mother and out the door. She followed her son's departure with her eyes, watched as the door to the outside closed; and than turned her eyes back toward the the psychiatric nurse practitioner. There must have been a question and a haggardness to her look; and the man mouthed words her way. She stood, stepping closer. What was he telling her? What answer was she being given? He mouthed the words again and this time the mother understood. This time she understood how truly alone and lost they were. For what this man had mouthed was nothing more and nothing less than the words, “Good luck!” And then he closed that door and disappeared.
Anyone who has ever been part of the mental health care system can relate to the previous story. Patient privacy, HIPAA laws, the inability or unwillingness of the loved ones to communicate with their families or their doctors, result in family members (and, yes, even the patients) being left out of the recovery process. There is something very wrong with a system that excludes those who can help the most. It's the family members who are generally the primary caregivers. It's often the family members who have the best insight into their loved one's illness. They do, after all, live with it everyday. But all too often, they are ignored. Family members must advocate for their loved ones, for themselves, and for a better mental health care system. If you have a loved one with a serious mental illness (or any illness for that matter), demand to talk to the doctor – you can always talk to them. They don't need to disclose any information. Let them know how your loved one is doing, let them know your concerns. If they refuse to talk to you, encourage your loved one to find a new doctor. Educate yourself and others. Advocate. Join groups such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and BringChange2Mind and let our voices be heard!