Should we stand up for parity of esteem wherever we see it?

We have worried on here about parity of esteem between physical and mental ill health previously, and there’s a generally increasing feel that we health types should be whistleblowers when we see foul play.

So if we see an example of mental ill health being treated poorly in comparable to physical illness, should we be blowing a whistle on that too?

Two examples spring to mind. One comes from the most recent series of Doctor Who, a BBC primetime family show about a time-travelling alien, his friends and his magic box. In this episode, the adventure involves a child with auditory and visual hallucinations, who is clearly terrified by them, and is on ‘medication’. On learning of the treatment, the Doctor states to his companion, Clara

“You people, you never learn …  If a child is speaking, listen to it.”

and explicitly rejects the use of psychiatric medication. That idea, while creatively cliched, is an rejection of parity of esteem. As Tansy Rayner Roberts put it

“You wouldn’t have [the hero] telling kids with asthma to throw away their inhalers”

The second comes from admissions of young people with overdose / self-harm. The group-think response, reported by a colleague, remains that such events are a waste of medical time. Even worse – I think for all concerned – is the occasional housing of such folk on teenage oncology wards. I assume that placing folk at an emotionally vulnerable time alongside those with a physical life-threatening illness will be detrimental.

So if we see an example of mental ill health being treated poorly in comparable to physical illness, should we, child health professionals, be blowing a whistle on that too, regardless of its’ arena?

– Bob Phillips

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