Do you want fries with that? A provider’s view on “drive-thru” mental health treatment

by Hannah Szlyk, LMSW on April 3, 2014 · 4 comments

in addictions,eating disorders,mental health,mental illness,stigma

“Popular female celebrity has gone into rehab. She expects to make a full recovery and return to her tour and her fans by next month, says the publicist.” How many times have we read this in the news?

Justin BieberAs I write, I am thinking of Justin Biebers recent DUI arrest, and I can only help but heave a big sigh, as I am sure, he too, will become another alumnus of “Hollywood Rehab.”

Don’t get me wrong – I love the newest edition of People magazine as much as the next person. Yes, I do think that the disclosures of pop stars and actors such as Demi Lovato and Kesha seeking treatment for eating disorders and addiction issues can minimize stigma around these problems. (Thank you, ladies.) But I also wonder how this portrayal of mental illness and treatment impacts the public.

My concerns as both a mental health provider and a social scientist are the concepts of “drive thru” treatment and the glamorization of specific mental illnesses that are being molded by the media.

Quick fix

An astute and humorous colleague of mine actually coined this term – “grab and go” treatment – as a way of explaining the influx of clients who are looking for a quick fix to mental health issues. Many individuals seeking diagnoses and professional advice are astounded when they are told that progress will take time, energy and money, thus creating an inconvenience and the need for reassessment of one’s lifestyle.

It can be frustrating to report the same explanation of quality treatment and the trajectory of most mental illness, yet I can understand how this inaccurate perception of psychiatric illness and “rehab” developed.

If you look at “TMZ” posts, rehab is this soothing place where one can “center” his/her self.  In reality, impactful treatment for a disorder will require more sweat and time than a Bikram yoga class. Of course many people are shocked and upset to find out that the stay at the “spa” turns out to be a crash course in their mental make-up and die-hard habits. If only the mental health problems of the world could be solved so simply.

Become an educated consumer

So what is a conscientious individual to do? Well, for starters, become educated consumers of the media and news. If you want to know more about mental health, research a treatment facility or talk to a provider. Read articles written by mental health professionals and researchers.

Also, a word to the writers, journalists and those who are in recovery – be careful about romanticizing mental health disorders. As blogger Alice Gregory of the New Yorker recently wrote in response to a memoir on anorexia nervosa:

It is the survivors’ responsibility to not inadvertently write ‘how to’ manuals on disorders in their accounts or to make their darkest moments sound angsty, sexy, and deeply creative.”

These styles of writing sell more books, but the consequences of these messages to readers who are struggling are not so benign. I agree with Ms. Gregory: It is time that someone wrote about the exhaustive, restrictive, antagonistic elements of living with a disorder and the hard work and commitment needed to heal.

Regardless, I still may order a copy of the Biebs’ future memoir on his rise above the “bad boy” years, but, of course, only for research purposes….

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Writing Marino April 25, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Great post! I found your topic to be very unique in the sense that most attack the media for reinforcing the stigma associated with mental illnesses and addictions. I agree with you that society is gradually becoming more understanding of mental illnesses and addiction as more celebrities are openly seeking treatment for their related issues. However, as more and more celebrities are seeking treatment, the media is glamorizing mental health treatment, portraying it as a vacation from the real world in a sense. The media does not accurately portray the fact that treatment is a painful, difficult, and painstaking process, and celebrities continue to work on their mental health and addictions far after they are released from treatment. While the media may eliminating the stigma associated with mental illness and seeking treatment for such diseases, they are also glamorizing it. I find it interesting that while others may disagree with your belief that the media is deteriorating the stigma with mental illness, both sides can agree that the media is not portraying the full truth associated with mental illnesses and treatment for the sake of entertainment.
While I have yet to watch the show, I am wondering if “Lindsay” on the OWN network will accurately portray the struggles of the recovery process after released from treatment. As most people know, Lindsay was recently released from rehab for alcoholism, and started a reality show portraying her life after recovery. While the media has a way of warping the truth for entertainment, based on the previews I have seen, I am eager to see if this show will finally portray the truth of recovery.

Samantha Bernstein April 5, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Thanks for an important perspective. The reporting of celebrity treatments and brief hospitalizations sets up so many parents for disappointment when they find out that there is a long, long road ahead for their child. We would never expect a quick and painless treatment for medical disorders, it’s a shame that we think psychiatric disorders can have a quick fix.
Samantha Bernstein, RN, MA
Nightingale Educational Consulting, LLC
Stamford, CT

Theresa Fassihi April 5, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Like Micki, I have had the opportunity to work with Hannah, who is a primary clinician at Houston Eating Disorders Center, and she does a great job of helping patients hang in there with the challenges of treatment and recovery and helping their families understand and support their loved ones. I agree wholeheartedly with her commentary. It may serve celebrities as “damage control” to minimize their illness and what they do in treatment, but it is very misleading to the public. Thanks for saying it so well, Hannah!

Micki Grimland April 3, 2014 at 9:17 pm

Brillantly written! As a skilled clinician, Hannah is astutely perceptive and professionally responsible in talking to the public about the less romantic and more reality base around what it takes to get healthy from mental health challenges. For those who are serious about changing their lives, as opposed to ruining their PR profile, Hannah is the ultimate professional Choice: and this is what you want to look for when you are therapist shopping. You want to look for someone just like Hannah: BRIGHT, smart, Clinically Astute, but most of all, with a heart as big as Texas for the clients she is sees. Hannah makes a client’s healing path a road to a happy future, not a media smile. Thank you for clinicians like Hannah Szlyk,LMSW.

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