Lacking insight

As part of ABC’s Mental As Week there was an inside look into Sydney’s busiest public mental health unit in a documentary called Changing Minds.  The documentary followed patients and their loved ones, during their stay in the psychiatric inpatient unit.  It was the first of it’s kind, allowing the cameras access to therapy sessions, tribunal meetings and behind the locked doors of a high dependency unit.

Dr Mark Cross was a big feature of the three part documentary and something that he said really hit home for me.  It seems to be happening a lot lately, the epiphanies that is.  He was speaking about the various things that brought people to his unit (he was the medical director of the unit).  He said that most of the patients lacked insight into their illness, they didn’t believe that they were sick.

I wonder if this way of determining if a person is unwell, is one of the reasons that there is such a huge gap between crisis and long term management care in the public system.  Is this the reason that a patient must be at a danger to themselves or others, before they are seen by a psychiatrist in the public system, at least as an adult.

Dr Cross also spoke about the model of treatment for psychiatric illness, that it is the only form of treatment where most of the treating is done against the will of the presenting patient.  He said that it was hard because so many of the patients were unable to see that the things that were happening to them and around them, were in their best interest.

I was really impressed with the documentary and the way it was presented.  All of my psychiatric admissions have been to a public ward.  My experiences were at odds with those that were presented by the private system.  I didn’t have access to groups, outings were few and far between and unless you played pool there wasn’t a whole lot for you to do, especially if you didn’t have leave.

The documentary showed an experience which was similar to what I have seen and experienced first hand.  It showed that the psychiatric inpatient units aren’t places to be feared, they aren’t the asylums that the media would have us believe.

It was also interesting that they showed the dynamics between the patients.  Sometimes, the other patients offered better therapy than the doctors.  There was a strange sort of comradeship between patients, you felt a mix of happiness and sadness that people you knew were back in hospital.  You’d share little tidbits of your life, there was no pressure to be sane, to be ‘normal’.

I’m really glad that ABC decided to include this three part documentary in their week of mental health viewing.  I hope that it helped people to understand what it is like for people when they go into hospital and that sometimes hospital provides that much needed safe place for people when they are unwell.  I hope that it gave people a better insight into mental illness and the different ways it is treated.

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