Saturday, 18 January 2014


There is a phrase I have referenced before in these pages - "attention-seeking behaviour" - a phrase frequently ascribed to people living with eating disorders and any manner of addictions and mental illness. Deeply dismissive - paternalistic - a phrase I heard frequently from health professionals in the context of both my working life and my own personal journey. Clearly this phrase has stuck with me gnawingly - making me frequently question my own motivation in sharing these stories in such a public way. When I worked in the Ministry of Health, it was often thrown out when eating disorder patients, in desperation, would take their stories to the media - desperate for access to the treatment they believed would help them regain their health. Having had much time for reflection, I have come to the conclusion that it exemplifies how the clinical approach to mental illness remains mired in the dark ages in so many ways. While technology, new interventions and ever growing investments in acute care have all but drowned out these and other more community-based supports and prevention efforts - our overwhelming discomfort with disease of the mind as opposed to other body parts makes this obscene imbalance one that will take decades, if ever, to overcome. Research, support for new medication alternatives, and treatment approaches remain limited and depressingly low on our priority list despite the billions invested in our health care system each year. Which brings me back to the foul notion that any health professional would continue to dismiss the more blatant cries for help by using language like "attention-seeking" that so summarily evades the message being sent - we are here by the legions - in the case of those with other defined mental illness - we frequently ditch the medication you give us due to the disgusting side effects and the time for better alternatives is long past - we will not stand for being treated as the lepers of the patient hierarchy - we need in a word - help.


  1. YES, excellent points. Another dimension to this -- have you noticed how much more frequently this term is used for women with mental illness (especially if the illness is more likely to happen to women) -- or even for women with illnesses of other parts of the body that do not happen to men? I sure have in my role as an advocate -- it's right up there with the dreaded "it's all in your head."