Challenges in Mental Health Care: The Sickness v. Wellness Perspective (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Mental health care is a challenging, but rewarding field.  There are many positive sides of mental health care, and also areas that need improvement.  One of the biggest rewards of mental health care is observing and experiencing progress, recovery, and a return to wellness of clients.  Healing, recovery, and a return to wellness of clients in mental health settings requires patience, understanding, respect, and sensitivity.  Agency and organizational stability is also needed for clients in order that they receive optimal care.  While each agency and/or organization has its own culture, a culture in which workers live in fear of becoming a statistic in extremely high turnover is unhealthy in itself.

As an individual working toward licensure in the mental health profession, I am one whose perspective is from a position of wellness.  First and foremost, one must view a person as a person.  To perceive and treat a person with respect, kindness, nonjudgment, and impartiality are requirements in supporting and empowering the wellness, healing, and recovery of clients.  In the counseling profession, one based on a view of wellness in people, there exists a positive and supportive hope for the overall optimal health of the individual.

This view is different from many other mental health professions in which the general view of the client is one of sickness.  Certainly, approaching an individual with a perspective of what can be improved is helpful, and for insurance purposes involving payment for services rendered, a diagnosis of the client is required, however it is my perspective that viewing the client from a wellness standpoint is much more healthy for all involved rather than judging a person as being sick.

Those who view and describe an individual as a “sick person” have already negatively judged him or her.  They have not viewed the person as a person, but as an “ill person.”  Such a perspective held by such individuals causes them to treat the client differently, as one who needs more and more treatment, more and more medication, more and more confinement.  In these situations, the positive view of wellness is gone, and is replaced by a judgment that the “sick person” is unable to become well.

While clients have challenges to achieving and maintaining wellness, it becomes even more of a challenge when many in the mental health field view clients as sick, and only they as the professionals who hold those views have the power and expertise to make them well – or they have already judged that they will never become well.  A professional who approaches a client from a perspective of wellness (a perspective that is in the minority), therefore, faces even more challenges, not only for themselves but also for their clients when others view them as sick and unable to become well.  A person is still a person, regardless of their diagnosis or disorder.  A person is still a person, and has the capability of becoming well.  A hopeful perspective toward client wellness must exist in the mental health profession – rather than client sickness – in order that clients are supported and empowered to experience that wellness.

A further challenge in agencies and/or organizations in which a “sickness” perspective prevails is that experienced clinicians fall into the trap of believing that their views and judgments about clients are the best – that they are the experts.  Certainly, the experience of a veteran clinician is extremely valuable in treating clients, however experienced clinicians who believe that only their views, judgments, and culture of sickness are the most helpful approaches create a potentially dangerous situations for their clients.  Clinicians of all levels of experience must be open-minded to considering and perceiving different views – including those from a wellness perspective – so that their clients receive optimal care and so that they profession, itself, can grow and develop in a healthy way.

Clinicians who view clients from a perspective of illness and negative judgment place their clients at risk for further illness.  Clinicians who are set in their ways of expertise toward mental health treatment, and who are unable to be open-minded toward viewing different perspectives regarding it have already erected walls around themselves that are harmful for themselves, their clients, the culture of their agency/organization, and the field of mental health.

What clinicians must always place as a primary priority is that people are people.  As such, people should be treated with dignity, understanding, kindness, respect, and sensitivity.  If a perspective of client wellness is lacking or absent, clients will likely experience a more difficult road to recovery and may not achieve wellness.  What is healthier – being an “expert” clinician whose views of client illness cause him or her to be closed to considering a client’s optimal recovery, or being a clinician who treats a person as a person, and who applies a wellness perspective that supports rather than negatively judges the client?  You be the judge.

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“Having a Love for Horses: Remembering Sir Taurus and Elitist” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Sir Taurus, 1989

Sir Taurus, 1989 (from “Standing his Second Season at Dan Gernatt Farms: Sir Taurus,” Dan Gernatt Farms (1989)

As a youth, I acquired my love for horses.  Two of my all-time favorite horses are Sir Taurus and Elitist.  In 1988 and 1989, and possibly other years as well, these horses were owned by Dan Gernatt Farms in Collins, New York.  Since I grew up living close by where the horses were staged, I had opportunities on my walking, running, and biking outings in my neighborhood to see, interact with, and enjoy both horses.  Sir Taurus and Elitist were unique and special, and hold a warm place in my heart.

Horses are such intelligent and sensitive animals.  I believe that they definitely have a sixth sense and are very emotional creatures.  In visiting the horses in my youth, I found that interacting with them was very calming.  If one approached them in a calm, relaxed, and trusting manner, they were also trusting and at ease.  Getting in close proximity to the horses, I spoke softly and warmly to them – particularly Sir Taurus – and they were always calm, easy, and even protective of me.

Elitist typically had more energy and spunk than Sir Taurus, so I was always more cautious around him.  While giving him carrots, I was always careful to watch out for my fingers, lest he mistake them for carrots and chomp away.  Sir Taurus was much more careful than Elitist in eating his carrots, using his intelligence and sensitivity to bite only the carrots and never get near any fingers.

At first when I stopped to visit the horses on my exercising jaunts, I brought them sugar cubes.  Interestingly, neither horse had any interest in them.  That was when I changed to giving them carrots, which they always devoured in a matter of seconds.  They absolutely loved carrots, and giving them carrots was a great way of having them approach me while they were in the outdoor, fenced fields.

About Elitist, I recall that he loved attention.  He was an extremely energetic horse, and almost seemed somewhat hyper.  He always behaved in a manner in which he believed that he was superior to other horses, including Sir Taurus.  When I stopped to visit them, I had to be sure to split my time equally between them, or Elitist would get antsy and upset, snickering his displeasure if Sir Taurus received more of my time than he did.  Sir Taurus was much more patient, gentle, relaxed, and secure in himself than Elitist.

There were times when I brought a heavy-bristled brush with which to brush them.  And, while Elitist was not very interested in being brushed, Sir Taurus could literally stand there all day and allow me to brush his neck.  He absolutely loved his neck being brushed.  I enjoyed that he enjoyed it.  He was a horse with which I connected.  He and I seemed to have an understanding which, on his part, was almost human.  Elitist enjoyed having his ears rubbed and scratched.  Both horses were amazing.

In 1989, I am aware that Sir Taurus held several world records in harness racing in New York State.  Particularly as a two- and three-year-old, he held many world records.  He was the co-holder of the world record with Mack Lobell on a 1/2 mile track with a time of 1:57.2h.  He was the only world record-holding son of Speedy Crown to stand in New York State at that time.  His breeding also included that through Vanessa Hill and Hickory Pride.  His career earnings as of 1989 were nearly $485,000.

That same year, it was announced that the $100,000 Elitist Cup would continue through 1992 to benefit those of his two-year-old offspring would be racing at that time.  He was purchased by Dan Gernatt, Sr. in 1983 due to his excellent race times of under and/or at 1:55, trotting or pacing (Abbey, 1984).  For two years, Elitist ran against the best horses in the field and earned $250,000.  His stud fee in 1989 was $3,000.  His breeding was by Bret Hanover-Melody Almahurst through a Meadow Skipper mare.

In the photo included in this post, Sir Taurus is possibly driven by Dave Vance, though I am unsure about that.  Vance was Sir Taurus’ driver for some time.  Most of the information that I have included herein is from uncopyrighted flyers that were issued by Dan Gernatt Farms regarding the horses in 1989, and which I have referenced below.

To this day, I enjoy being around and interacting with horses.  Sir Taurus and Elitist were two horses that I really loved.  On many occasions throughout my life, I have taken opportunities to go horseback riding, and to see that my son has experienced pony and horseback riding, as well.  While I have never been able to afford owning or maintaining horses, the opportunities that I have had to interact with them and acquire a love for them are those that I cherish.  Horses are truly gifted animals, and should never be underestimated in their sensitivity or intelligence.

References:

Abbey, H.C. (1984).  “Gernatt’s Horses Plug Collins.”  The Buffalo News.  Buffalo, New York: Berkshire Hathaway.

Dan Gernatt Farms (1989).  “Standing his Second Season at Dan Gernatt Farms: Sir Taurus.”  Dan Gernatt Farms.  Collins, New York: Dan Gernatt Farms.

Dan Gernatt Farms (1989).  “The $100,000 Elitist Cup Continues: Elitist.”  Dan Gernatt Farms.  Collins, New York: Dan Gernatt Farms.

“Polar Vortex 2014” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Snowy Landscape Photo (Retrieved from http://wallpaperweb.org/wallpaper/nature/snow-steps-in-winterland_62252.htm, January 7, 2014)

Snowy Landscape Photo (Retrieved from http://wallpaperweb.org/wallpaper/nature/snow-steps-in-winterland_62252.htm, January 7, 2014)

The cold is no joke!  The biggest weather – and news – event occurring during the past couple of days has been the 2014 Polar Vortex that has swept across the United States.  Extremely frigid polar air from the Arctic has dipped down to the Deep South of the US.  This morning, January 7, 2014, in Snellville, Georgia, near Atlanta, where I live, the temperature at 7:00 AM was 3 degrees Fahrenheit, and that’s without including the wind chill factor!  Already at around 9:00 PM this evening, the temperature was back down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit after reaching a high of about 25 degrees Fahrenheit this afternoon at about 3:30 PM!  One online news article (Henry, 2014) reported that temperatures around parts of the US are colder than those currently in Antarctica!

It is definitely true that people – especially those folks in the South who are not accustomed to such icy temperatures – may not be entirely aware of the dangers of extreme cold.  Regarding myself, being originally from the Buffalo, New York area, I know about the cold, the dangers of it, and know not to take any unnecessary risks, nor to potentially place myself or others in danger in such frigidly cold weather.   Extreme cold can cause frostbite, hypothermia, and/or death.  It is not something with which to play around or take chances.

I am an individual who remembers the Blizzard of 1977 where I lived in Collins, New York.  I was 6-years-old at the time, and in the first grade.  Even at such a young age, it was exciting for my brother and I to remain at home for two straight weeks due to the school closures related to the Blizzard conditions.  I recall and have photographs that my parents took of my brother and I standing atop snow drifts that were as high as the roof of our garage.  Similar drifts created by snow plows clearing snow from the roads caused rises of snow that were of the same height.  Once the blizzard conditions passed, it was fun to play outside in the snow for awhile, but not long enough to get too cold.

In my mid-teens, there was a time when I believed I could outsmart Mother Nature by going out and riding snowmobile in temperatures that were less than 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and with wind chills of about -20 degrees Fahrenheit.  I promised that I would not be gone long, and was not riding for more than one hour when I returned home and was unable to feel my left hand.  I had decided to return when my toes and feet began tingling, but did not realize that I had already lost sensation in my hand.  I only realized it upon taking off my glove upon entering the house, remembering that I could not feel anything in my hand.  It was the beginning of frostbite.  Thankfully, it was not serious, and my mom saw to it that my hand was warmed carefully and quickly.  However, it is an experience that I have always remembered, and no longer take risks in the extreme cold with Mother Nature.

What is tricky in the South is that it can be frigidly cold, but there not be a speck of snow on the ground.  For me, coming from Buffalo, that is always a big disappointment.  When there is cold, I have always come to expect snow to accompany it.  However, that is rarely the case in the South.  And, that is something that can fool people into a false sense of security.  Simply because there is no snow on the ground does not necessarily mean that it is not cold – or even frigidly cold, as it has been here for the past couple of days now.  One must get bundled up if going outside, must not remain outside for very long, and must be assured of having a warm place to go – or even emergency measures to use – if one’s vehicle breaks down or if one’s utilities stop working in one’s home, for examples.

Also, what I noticed this afternoon when I went out to run a couple of quick errands was that people on the road are impatient with other drivers.  For goodness sakes, it is COLD outside!  I was out and about for only 20 minutes or so, and within that time, there were already two drivers who honked their horns at other drivers who were stopped at traffic lights, and who did not resume driving quickly enough for them once the traffic light changed from red to green.  People are not used to the cold.  Vehicles are not used to the cold.  And, people need to give each other more understanding and be more patient in extreme weather events such as this.  The buses may be off the roads because schools are closed, however that does not mean that some folks are entitled to race down the empty speedway through the city.  People should be more cautious and careful, and give each other more consideration in situations such as this.  That is definitely the intelligent thing to do.

So, be careful out there in the cold.  And, don’t go out into it if you don’t have to.  Bundle yourself up, make sure there are extra blankets in your vehicle – and for many, a shovel and even hot packs.  People who are used to the cold such as skiers and snowmobilers from the North such as myself know these things.  Listen to your body when you are out in the cold.  And, better yet, listen to your brain.  Stay inside where it is warm unless you have to go out.  Don’t take any unnecessary risks, or place yourself or others in potential danger.  Hopefully, you have some food stocked up, or if you don’t, get some when the temperatures have risen during the day.  Stay warm, stay healthy, stay inside as much as possible!

References:

“2014 North American cold wave.”  Wikipedia.  Retrieved on January 7, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_North_American_polar_vortex

Henry, R. (2014).  “Polar air blamed for 21 deaths nationwide.”  MSN News; Associated Press.  Retrieved on January 7, 2014 from http://news.msn.com/us/polar-air-brings-single-digit-cold-to-east-south.