Thursday, September 20, 2012

Open letter to mental health professionals

A couple of years I came across a book on "parenting with depression" in the library. I opened it eagerly, hoping for assurance that I wouldn't necessarily be a terrible parent.

...and then I realized that none of the co-authors had depression. They had just worked with depressed people. The book contained no material by actual parents with depression.

If you work in mental health or social services, you should be reading first-person accounts of your clients' experiences.

I first wanted to be a therapist when I was fourteen, after discovering a message board for self-injurers. I didn't self-injure, but I spent a year reading and responding to what they wrote. I doubt I was very helpful, but it gave me a sense of the day-in, day-out desperation they lived with.

Later, when I was considering adopting a child from foster care, I read message boards for adoptive parents. I read the things they love and hate about their social workers. I heard the things they don't tell social workers for fear of losing the kids. I'm better at working with adoptive families than I would have been if I hadn't read these things.

Every week I read Post Secret. It's an engrossing read, but it's also a good education. People come out with the pains and pleasures they know aren't socially acceptable.

Norah Vincent's Voluntary Madness, an account of her psychiatric hospitalizations, helped me understand how confusing the legal status of psych patients is. I haven't read Andy Behrman's Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania, but I've wanted to ever since reading "When I'm manic, I'm so awake and alert, that my eyelashes fluttering on the pillow sound like thunder." You don't get that in the DSM.

If you limit yourself to material by observers, you're missing out.

Read something you haven't read before. Read a pro-ana site. Read a pro-suicide site. Your clients do.

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