Discriminatory treatment

This is my submission for this month’s mental health blog carnival on stigma and discrimination. And yes, I’m late for my own deadline. So to be fair, if there are any last minute submissions, you have until 30th July my time (ie. Australian time) as the absolute latest. Ready…go! 

In our first Health & Health Behaviour tutorial, the class participated in an activity in which we were asked for our view points on particular health issues. The four corners of the classroom were each designated ‘strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree’ and we each had to stand according to our opinions on the issue. The questions started out mild with ‘People should stay home if they’re sick with a cold’ and progressed to ‘Sex should only occur between a married heterosexual couple.’ The final question, the most provocative one at least in my point of view, was ‘An obese person requiring heart surgery should not have it paid for by Medicare.’ Out of approximately forty five people in the class, about five stood at ‘strongly disagree.’ I was one of them. The rest either agreed or disagreed and only one stood at ‘strongly agree.’

We were asked to share to the class the reasons behind where we stood. Up until then I hadn’t really had anything to offer. In regards to that statement though, I spoke up. I pointed out that the point of Medicare is so that everyone has access to healthcare, whether they be rich or be poor. If there’s a rich obese person and a poor obese person, isn’t that unfair on the poor person, and totally undermining the whole point of Medicare? The second point I brought up was how far then would this be taken? Will we then say people sick with eating disorders and/or underweight are not entitled to Medicare? Or people with alcohol addictions who have liver damage must also pay for the whole of treatment themselves?

As someone who has a mental illness, this also affects my opinion. I am all too aware that similar as to how an obese person may be blamed for their heart condition, we may also be blamed for our mental illness or the symptoms associated with it. Depression? It’s your own fault for not being strong or resilient enough to cope with life. Anorexia? It’s your own fault for denying yourself food and not eating enough. Cut yourself? It’s your own fault for taking the blade to your skin. Overdosed? It’s your own fault for taking handfuls of pills. Therefore none of you deserve to have your treatment paid for by the government/taxes.

Thousands of dollars has been spent by Medicare on my psychologist and psychiatrist appointments. Not to mention trips to the Emergency Department following ODs and a stint in a public psychiatric ward. There are times when I have felt guilty about the money spent, because it is ‘my own fault.’ Especially when I’ve had to obtain hospital treatment following an OD. Really though, people with a mental illness are just as deserving as people with a physical illness, whatever the origin. We shouldn’t be denying people money for treatment simply because we view their illness as ‘their own fault.’ There could be a whole range of factors that have led to someone developing a mental illness, factors out of their control. Similarly, a whole range of external factors could have led to someone becoming obese. Genetics. Thyroid issues. Other medical conditions. Medications which cause weight gain. Therefore we shouldn’t discriminate just because it seems as though they’ve gained an illness through their own doing. Nobody chooses to be ill. Nobody.