Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Who's really crazy?

The Science & Theology website reports on a New York Times article and government sponsored survey about mental health. It's an interesting article. They report that data from the survey suggests that more than half of all American's will suffer from some form of mental illness during their lifetime.

It got me thinking about my own experiences with the mentally ill. When I was younger, and still an undergrad student, I worked as a CNA at a long-term care facility that housed both elderly and psychiatric patients. I saw some really weird things go on there. Some of it was terrifying, and mostly because of the practices of the nursing staff and doctors, not the patients.

What I would see happen is that whenever a patient had difficulty with the practices of the facility, and 'acted out' because of it, the nursing staff would call the doctor, get a prescription for some drug (generally an anti-psychotic) and immediately, and forcibly, begin administering it to these patients. What seemed to me as a minor rebellion on the part of the patient (hey, these guys just wanted to be treated like adults) was interpreted by the nursing staff as psychotic behavior. In two specific cases the patients were mentally retarded, having the intellectual and emotional level of 3-year-old children, and yet when they presented behavioral problems (i.e. throwing a tantrum), off to the medicine cabinet the nurses went.

To me, this was the truly insane behavior. A patient acts out because of perceived ill treatment, and the nurses sedate them. Not only do they sedate them, they get the doctors to sign off on the idea that this patient needs anti-psychotics such as haloperidol (Haldol). I'm not kidding here! An older woman, with the mental ability of a 3 year old, was given Haldol just to stop her from throwing a tantrum. Haldol has some nasty side effects, by the way. It screws up your peripheral nervous system. I've seen it put this patient (and others) into wheel chairs for the rest of their lives. And yet this stuff was handed out like candy.

I knew when governmental authorities were due for various inspections, too. Two or three of the nursing staff would show up on the graveyard shift and start rewriting the patient's medical records. How they knew the inspectors were coming is anybody's guess.

Is this really what mental health treatment is all about? I don't think so. I can only hope that my experience is the exception, and not the rule, for such places.

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