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#JamesDonaldson On #MentalHealth – ‘I Felt Disillusioned And Abandoned:’ A #Seattle Medical Worker On Why #MentalHealthCare Is Needed In The Field

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Andrick Schall, a Seattle native, entered the health care field in 2020 as a Certified Medical Assistant. (Courtesy of  Andrick Schall)
Andrick Schall, a #Seattle native, entered the #healthcare field in 2020 as a Certified Medical Assistant. (Courtesy of Andrick Schall)

By 

Andrick Schall

#MentalHealth Perspectives guest columnist

The #MentalHealthProject is a #SeattleTimes initiative focused on covering #mental and #behavioralhealth issues. It is funded by Ballmer Group, a national organization focused on economic mobility for #children and families. The #SeattleTimes maintains editorial control over work produced by this team.

Editor’s note: This story focuses on #suicide and other topics related to psychiatric distress. If you or a loved one is in crisis, resources are available here.

Those who work in #healthcare are often the victims of #mentalillness themselves. In early 2020, the industry became crushed under the #COVID-19 #pandemic that neither #healthcareworkers nor society were adequately prepared to bear. As turmoil continued, the damage to #healthcareworkers became more severe.

Compassion fatigue set in. The long hours, the brutal conditions, the constant presence of death, and the fear that this relentless #virus would inevitably infect them caused many #veterans of the industry to leave. 

As of late 2021, nearly 75% of #healthcareworkers reported exhaustion, #depression, #sleepdisorders and #PTSD. About 45% of #healthcareworkers feel they have inadequate emotional support. It is estimated that by the end of 2022, the #American #healthcare system will have a shortage of 1.1 million #nurses. And finally: The #suicide rate of health care workers is 2.2 times higher than the general population. Who heals the healers?

The #SeattleTimes #MentalHealthProject features contributed essays from members of our community as part of our #MentalHealth Perspectives guest column. We invite individuals with personal stories related to #mentalhealth to share their experiences that reflect broader issues and concerns in the field. If you would like to inquire about submitting a column, please email mentalhealth@seattletimes.com.

#Depression and #anxiety have afflicted me my entire life. Through decades of treatment, my condition was in remission when I made the decision to enter the #healthcare field in January of 2020 as a certified medical assistant.

Like many newcomers, I had ambitions of helping others and society. These dreams were quickly dashed as I discovered a field of underappreciated, overworked and underpaid workers. I was bullied and harassed. My #mentalhealth was gradually strained, to the point of my #suicideattempt last year.

I was physically assaulted by a higher-ranking colleague at my former workplace. This was the breaking point for me. My #psychiatrist secured a short leave for me, and I took advantage of the organization’s employee assistance program. Meanwhile, despite an investigation into the incident, the colleague who assaulted me was cleared and kept their position and title. I pondered if I had made a mistake entering #healthcare, and whether the incident was my fault. 

#JamesDonaldson notes:

Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for #mentalhealthawarenessandsuicideprevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.

Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.

Having gone through a recent bout of #depression and #suicidalthoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space.  #http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle

How to find help

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or have concerns about someone else who may be, call the #NationalSuicidePreventionLifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255); you will be routed to a local crisis center where professionals can talk you through a risk assessment and provide resources in your community. More info: suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Or reach out to Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741 for free, 24/7 crisis counseling. More info: crisistextline.org.

In the fall of 2021, I awoke to a panic attack. A cloud of bleak #hopelessness and loss descended. I was not thinking clearly. I started taking pills. I wanted to die because I wanted relief.

Midway through my attempt, my cat Mia walked into my room. I could see the curiosity in her eyes, as some part of me reminded myself that I needed to clean her litter box, sparking a chain of thoughts that kept me alive: Who would take care of Mia? Who would look after my aging mother? What would killing myself do to her? To my family, my friends?

I stopped, and called 911. It was a hard three days in the hospital. But I am lucky; I survived. 

The day I was released from the hospital, a managing #nurse at the clinic called me. She did not ask how I was doing. Instead, she launched into a tirade of policy, telling me I would need a detailed note from the physicians who treated me to get my time in the hospital approved by Human Resources. I was in no shape to return to the hospital and ask them to fill out paperwork. Through tears, I resigned. I felt disillusioned and abandoned.

My recovery was slow: days of constant sleeping, profound fatigue while awake, psychogenic seizures (nonepileptic seizures caused by #stress), panic attacks and a constant inner voice telling me that everything was my fault, that I did not belong in #healthcare. But with the skills of my #psychiatrist and a new psychotherapist, I began to crawl out of the hole.  

#Mentalhealthresources from The #SeattleTimes

Most medical facilities offer some degree of #mentalhealthsupport for their employees, typically free of cost. These programs range from relaxation and mindfulness exercises to access to direct care with a #mentalhealthprofessional, and even the granting of medical leave if needed. These programs may be well-intended, but do not go far enough.

Nearly a third of #healthcareworkers are concerned about consequences or retaliation if they seek #mentalhealth assistance from their employer. Many #doctors fear seeking #mentalhealthtreatment, as divulging doing so can be a barrier to licensing. 

And therein is the problem: Despite an industry’s attempt to take care of its own, the draining environment all too often remains. America has shown its weak hand in caring for the general public, and also for the workers who have devoted their time, energy and lives to keeping our society healthy.

The problem the #healthcareindustry faces can be fixed. Patients must be engaged and taught to be proactive advocates of their health. Employers should supply greater access to #mentalhealthtreatment for workers. This requires more trained providers in the field and access more readily available. This also requires more dedicated facilities to treat people with #mentalillness.   

I am fortunate. My #mentalhealth has greatly improved. I am returning to work very soon, as a medical assistant at a new company. I’ve had no recent symptoms. I am eager to give my calling another chance.  

I personally believe #mentalillness cannot be cured but rather learned to live with. My #healthcare team has given me the tools to help myself; I have family and friends cheering for me; I have developed strong coping mechanisms; and I feel confident and encouraged to face the future. Still, dire conditions remain in #healthcare.   

#America is experiencing a #mentalhealthcrisis, amid all of the other challenges that face our society. Those who are trained and devoted to care for those with #mentalhealthissues are succumbing to the crisis themselves. The workforce is shrinking, keeping #mentalhealthcare further out of reach. The situation must change, quickly.

If #healthcare continues down its current path, a far greater tragedy awaits us. I hope that it does not.

Andrick Schall is a lifelong resident of #Seattle. He is a Certified Medical Assistant, and enjoys writing about #healthcare.

Andrick Schall

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