For mentally ill, words can do damage

By Pamela Field / For the Sun-News
Posted:   09/10/2012 12:17:56 AM MDT

We need to get rid of the “D” word.Deranged that is.

Usually everyone has an opinion about what might cause “lone shooter killings.” And words like wackjob, deranged, nutcase start appearing. Consider the article in the Albuquerque Journal, July 28, 2012 by Diane Diamond.

Diamond starts her article with “Every time a mentally deranged James Holmes (Aurora, Colorado), a Jared Loughner (Tucson), or Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.) commits mass murder…”

Diamond went on to say that “It is the mental illness that grips people and causes them to hunt down and kill their fellow citizens.” And talking about schizophrenia she says “It is a malady that can be successfully treated…”

Are heart disease, cancer and diabetes called maladies?

As long as mentally ill people are dehumanized by language, it is not necessary to consider them ill, or believe they have a brain disorder, or for that matter, provide them with mental health care.

And often the worst offenders are people who who work in the medical and mental care systems. I’ve witnessed this all too often as a nurse. I once heard an E.R.doctor say “Get him out of here — he’s a schizophrenic.”

A letter to the editor, Sun-News, dated August 5, 2012 broke my heart.

In it Romana Cuellar, Anthony, NM, described how she had tried in vain to get her son mental health treatment, and how she helplessly watched her son die, when the care provided was dismal at best.

Cueller said, “The paramedics were called and overheard saying doctors didn’t want these type of patients taking up the bed of a real sick person.” She went on …”During the worst period of his battle with mental disability he attempted suicide. His life became filled with drugs and alcohol. He felt constantly mistreated by the health-care system.”

The sentence that hit me the hardest was, “The final blow to him and our family was the way he was treated during the moments leading to his death. There were many unsympathetic moments he and our family endured. We are grateful for the few nurses who genuinely had compassion for him.”

Several years ago a nurse who also was a friend of mine went home after a 12-hour shift to find her boyfriend dead after he committed suicide. She called and cried “How do people live through things like this?”

So my question is “How does Ms. Cuellar live through something like this?”

The courage I have seen by some families of the mentally ill always astounds me. And the hurt and loss of what family members experience knows no boundaries. I really believe most families stay in a perpetual state of grief all throughout their lives. Life is altered in a way that most people could not understand unless experiencing it themselves. But not understanding the emotions is different from not becoming educated about the illnesses.

Ms. Cuellar ends her letter by saying, “Our current health-care system needs to find a way to help people with mental disabilities or drug and alcohol abuse in such a way that no other person or caring family has to endure the anguish of being treated without respect or dignity.”

I wish I could wave a magic wand and be able to have everyone accept and understand that people with a mental illness are human, just as a start. Changing language would be next. Words like deranged, wacko and nutcase hurt, and they are powerful.

They might be traced to someone not receiving adequate treatment. Or even worse. Dying.

Nami-Dac offers a 12 week course called to Family to Family. Information about this and education regarding mental illness can be found at Nami-Dac.org and the phone number is 386-6890.

Pamela Field is a psychiatric nurse and president of Nami-Dona-Ana County. She has been recently elected to the Nami New Mexico state board. She can be reached at 575-386-6890.

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