I remember going to a psychiatrist appointment, maybe two years ago, when she asked me if a student could sit-in on the session with us. As a student myself, I understood how valuable hands-on learning is, so I agreed. The student, an older woman likely in her 50s, greeted me as I walked in. We exchanged hellos and commented on the weather. I could feel and see her examining me- well dressed, clean, and tense maybe what she saw. I looked put together, I knew that. I hid behind my name brands and job in mental healthcare. I wanted to appear like I had my life together, and I wasn’t crazy.
The student asked me about my education, job, and personal relationships. Then she looked me dead in the eyes and said: “Wow, with your Kate Spade bag and getting accepted into graduate school, you should be so happy.”
I looked at her, stunned by both her ignorance and bluntness, and replied: “Yeah, I should be.”
My psychiatrist quickly tried to descale the tense situation: “Well, that is why she is here today.”
The problem with the student’s comment has to do with one word: should. I believe she meant to say something along the lines of you have wonderful things in your life, and I can see how depression must be impacting your mental health. Instead, the comment sent a different message. By saying I ‘should’ be happy, it implies that the reason I am unhappy has to do with me and not something out of my control. The comment suggested that I am ungrateful for the wonderful things in my life because I ‘should’ be happy, but I wasn’t.
I was not hurt by the comment, but I was surprised. I was surprised because even in the mental healthcare field, there is still a skewed perception of mental disorders. Even someone studying to prescribe medication FOR mental disorders is lacking basic knowledge about mental health. This is a bright red fluorescent sign that mental health education is severely lacking. How we are taught to talk about mental health as a society is flawed, and change needs to occur.
This was a very minor experience for me. I was not hurt or set-off, and I quickly forget about the comment after I left. Yet, I still remember that comment like it was yesterday. it stuck in my mind so clearly that I am able to write about it today.
I want to reflect on this moment not only because it is a sign of how mental healthcare needs to change, but also because I know I will be told something along the lines of this again. Next time, I want to be prepared. If I were in that situation again, this is what I would say: “Just because I am in extreme pain and suffering does not mean that I am simply unhappy with my life. I want to be able to love and appreciate what I have, but I can’t. This does not mean that I am ungrateful or an unhappy person in general. This means that I have a severe mental illness and I am struggling right now. Which is exactly why I am in this office today. So no, I shouldn’t be happy. I SHOULD be exactly as I am right now, regardless of how it makes you feel.”