When Honor Eastly checked herself in to a psychiatric facility at the age of 25, she realised within 10 minutes that it wasn’t what she’d imagined. She’d assumed it would be a place for healing, for getting well.
Instead, buried among the procedural questions about allergies and her date of birth, the nurse handling her intake interview asked her if she was likely to “give it up easily”, as in, have sex with other patients. She also told Honor her self-harm “wasn’t that bad”, that normally people like her come in “all cut up and down”. But there was one comment in particular that really got to her.
“The nurse said, ‘Let me give you some advice: Don’t tell anyone in here your diagnosis,'” Honor told Mamamia‘s No Filter podcast. “I was like, ‘What? Do you mean other patients and stuff?’ She was like, ‘No, the staff. Don’t tell the staff; they’ll treat you worse because of your diagnosis.’
“Some of the diagnoses I had received were associated with being just difficult, basically. So [the nurse] was kind of saying, ‘You’re not actually that bad. So don’t tell people this diagnosis, because they’ll treat you like you are going to be annoying or frustrating or attention seeking.'”
It confused Honor at first. She’d been seeking help for her mental health for more than a decade, and felt fully the power that diagnoses could bring. The way they made her feel believed, validated, and afforded her access to otherwise out-of-reach services.
But as she ventured further into the mental health system, the artist/podcaster began to learn – as she put it – “that these labels could be used against me”. Now working as a mental health advocate, it’s a point she believes we don’t hear about enough.
“There are particular diagnoses that have a lot of connotations and stigma attached. Often we talk about that as if it’s a thing that the public isn’t literate enough to understand. But that stuff plays out in the mental health system a lot,” she said.
What’s it really like in a psych ward? Honor Eastly wants to change the way Australians see mental health and she’s doing so by sharing her story…
Honor’s experience is not an isolated one.
A 2013 report by the Mental Health Council of Australia found that people with mental health conditions experienced similar levels of stigma from health professionals as they did from the general population. Almost 29 per cent reported that their treating health professional had shunned them, and these figures rose to over 54 per cent for those with post-traumatic stress disorder and 57 per cent for those with borderline personality disorder.
The report featured snapshots from patients and carers, insight into the ways in which they’d been made to feel less-than by the very people and the very infrastructure tasked with helping them.
There was a mother and carer who wrote, “We have sat in a room with [a] psychiatrist telling our extremely intelligent, ambitious, well-educated and capable daughter (at 18) that she should stop expecting anything from life because she has a mental illness, even leaving her bedroom to join the family for meals was apparently far too ambitious. She was told in my presence by the psychiatrist to accept it (not being able to leave the bedroom) and stop complaining.”