OPINION: The Failing Stigma and Treatment of Mental Illness
Unless we are all missing something, it seems that the stigma of being declared mentally ill or mentally incompetent is rapidly turning into a nightmare. The most recent evidence, German wings flight 9525’s copilot’s ravenous and murderous behavior. Reports indicate he had torn up doctor reports that he was unfit to fly based on a psychosomatic illness concerning his eyes. His mental wellness is contingent on taking prescribed medications for depression prescribed by his doctor.
We’ve got to ask ourselves, what is wrong in the world when we’ve seen so much violence and lives lost as a result of untreated and avoided mental wellness issues? What is the stigma people look to avoid that turns into untreated symptoms that result in mass chaos and destruction?
People suffering from mental health symptoms are often deemed as outcasts, following their reported and diagnosed symptoms to the extreme, while looking to persecute the people in the environment who they believe would not understand or scoff at the pain and suffering they are going through. And then there are the pills or medications that turn their minds into zombies.
Psychiatry has become a religion of sorts, providing the answer to all of our problems in a nice little pill with side effects so long it takes a speed talker speaking at a billion words a minute to list them all in one commercial. Who would want to take such a pill? And of course the irony of medication sets in as well, over time the patient begins to feel better so they come off their medication, but the main reason they felt better was because of the medication. At the same time, going on and off medication sends the neurochemicals into a frenzy and the patient and doctor have to begin all over again, adjusting and readjusting pills and dosages until the desired effect has taken place. Six months later, the process begins again. Getting the right dosage and pills for any particular person is a crap shoot; you’d have better luck hitting a bull’s eye with a blind fold on.
Of course I’m not necessarily talking about the average person who is prescribed Lexapro for stress or mild depression by their primary care physician. That’s the equivalent of taking a vitamin for your brain. I’m talking about the severe mentally ill, whose industry has been accepted and guided by the American Psychological Association (APA) and the insurance company you’re paying a hefty monthly premium to TELL YOU HOW TO LIVE YOUR LIFE. The APA has got a book on this subject, it’s called the DSM, now in its fifth edition and used by doctors and psychiatrists the country over to label patients for the muddled up, messed up and screwed up way for which they think while offering no understanding of treatment other than a jagged little pill for the rest of their lives, confining patients to a prison of the mind. Our mental wellness as a person and as a society have got to come up with something that’s a whole ton better than these so called experts of the trade. Unfortunately, it appears the power of original and creative thought has gone by the way side as a result of scientific research performed on rats in captivity.
So it seems we’ve come to a cross road and are questioning what is truly the best way to treat matters of mental wellness. Let’s try this on for size; acceptance, understanding, and empathy. Most of my patients say the same thing day in and day out, it’s not the voices they hear that they are afraid of, it’s the stigma associated with the people around them that terrifies them the most. People suffering from severe mental illness want to be accepted, not ousted by society. They want to lead normal and productive lives just like the rest of us and they require a supportive environment to do so.
I’m not saying to allow potential psychopaths to run amok in the streets while we sit around and coddle them to sleep every night, not at all. If a patient reports suicidal or homicidal thoughts, that person needs to be committed for prolonged care, or if a schizophrenic client hears voices that are telling them to hurt themselves or others, yes that person should be placed on medication, there are always exceptions. However, the majority of people suffering from severe mental illness do not exhibit such extreme hallucinations or delusions. It would be unfair to poke and prod at such people just because of the stigma associated with hearing voices or because it’s become the standard of care handed down by insurance and pharmaceutical companies as the best practice to treat any such symptomology.
On another note, practitioners need to be held to a higher standard, specifically related to the greater good of society. Should a doctor, therapist or psychiatrist treat a person who they deem is unfit to carry on their job duties, it should be their responsibility to disclose such information on their own and not wait for the patient to self-disclose. Seriously, the doctor has a patient in their office they feel is unfit to work, who is a pilot in control of the care and safety of hundreds of people, and he/she leaves it up to the patent to disclose this information.
The regulation of HIPPA laws, which define patient confidentiality and the rights of both patient and doctor to disclose or even more, NOT to disclose personal information to anyone outside the doctor’s office, has placed society at risk for a hostile takeover. Our infamous co-pilot of flight 9525 was told to self-disclose his illness to his employer. As we all know that did not happen, assuming that this was due to the doctor’s inability to disclose this information as a result of “patient confidentiality,” designated by HIPPA, so the task came upon the co-pilot (I’m not mentioning his name for a reason), to do so.
I believe it’s time to rethink and change up laws, rules and regulations of HIPPA. Perhaps 150 people would still be with us. What do you think?
About the author: P.D. Alleva, MSW, is the founding owner of Lifescape Solutions and Evolve Mental Health which he opened in December of 2011, based on a new model of healing and psychotherapy called Spiritual Growth Therapy. He is also the author of the fiction novel, Indifference, which was published in 2013 and the upcoming fiction novels, A Billion Tiny Moments in Time..., and Celestial Silence along with the nonfiction philosophical novel, The Zombie Apocalypse. He has also created his own model of hypnotherapy training, Clinical Hypnosis with Spiritual Growth Therapy and Spiritual Growth Therapy Training. Alleva has created highly successful models for working with self-harm, trauma and PTSD, and continues to develop new adaptations of the models he has created.
How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats
One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority. In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.
The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics.
From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world.
The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years.
This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate.
Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.
To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care.
Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change.
It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device.
These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.
Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement:
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.
In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.
Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents.
Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.
This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents.
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.
Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.
As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.
Fighting future threats
With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.
To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced.
This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.