In the 3.5 years that passed since my diagnosis I have worked with about ten psychiatrists. All of them were psychiatrists-in-training, because that’s how hospitals roll in the Netherlands. Some of them were good. Some of them weren’t.
The worst doctor that I had a “pleasure” of working with had a habit of rolling his eyes when I asked questions. He also didn’t bother listening to what I said, much less remembering it after, dismissed suggestions I came up with and generally treated me appallingly. When I told him I wanted to see another doctor, he responded by saying he didn’t see the need for that. Meaning, he was a judge in the case where he was the accused, and unsurprisingly found himself not guilty. It took a letter to his supervisor, where I detailed all the wrongdoings, mistakes and omissions, to get him off my back and give me a doctor that — shock horror — actually listened to me and worked with me, rather than against me.
It is true that you need a psychiatrist to diagnose you. It cannot be done by people on internet forums, your friends, parents or myself (I am not a professional). But same as with every job on Earth, there are good and bad psychiatrists. One of my doctors seemed to nod off during our conversations. One of them was intelligent, challenging and had a great sense of humour. Can you guess which one I preferred working with?
At the moment I have another psychiatrist-in-training working with me. She is attentive, listens to everything I say, answers all my questions and ensures I don’t have any more to ask, discusses prescriptions with me rather than throw them in my general direction, is available via e-mail and phone whenever I need quick help and, very simply, is a nice person. She doesn’t blink when asking me difficult questions about drug use or my suicidal thoughts and plans. She never dismisses any of my concerns. The only unfortunate thing is that in November she will finish her training at my hospital. I have wondered already whether it would be possible to follow her wherever she goes next. Because by now I know that a good psychiatrist is worth their weight in gold. Thanks to my current doctor, I have enjoyed a period of stability lasting over three months; which allowed me to finish “Bipolar For Beginners”, another book I am working on and start on the third one. Suddenly I discovered I don’t have to work in manic spurts of 18 hours, then drop everything for three months because I’m depressed. She found a way to stabilise me, and keeps on reassuring me that this blissful period will last.
If your psychiatrist makes you feel uncertain; ignores you; doesn’t answer questions; forgets what you said last time; ignores your concerns about suicidal thoughts and feelings; or simply doesn’t feel trustworthy — change them at first opportunity. You are the customer; you are in need of certain services; your doctor gets paid for their work. If you had a hairdresser that constantly gives you terrible haircuts, you’d move somewhere else. Treat your wellbeing as number one priority. You don’t have to stick with a psychiatrist that doesn’t do their job right. Your goal should be stability and functioning well, not pleasing a doctor who doesn’t bother doing their job well. Do not hesitate making written complaints if necessary — you’ll be surprised at how a well-written letter can suddenly change your doctor’s attitude. While it is your psychiatrist’s duty to make you function well, it is your duty to ensure you picked the right person for the job. If a builder doesn’t work well, you have a leaking roof. If your psychiatrist doesn’t work well, your life is at stake. Demand the best and settle for nothing else.
Photo: “Doctor Tom Saves The Day” by Murray Barnes (CC 2.0)