“Best intentions are usually at play in most medical settings”, says Simon Kozak, Marketing Lead for Equally Well. Simon teaches us a great deal about the significance of addressing bias and ensuring that the health of individuals with mental health and addiction challenges is not overshadowed.
“When I was admitted to my local A&E, I was well looked after and thoroughly checked over. But there was one nuance that stood out – the focus on my past health history of alcohol dependency.
For well over 20 years, I had been in the grip of alcoholism and everything that comes with it, although somehow, I managed to avoid any lasting liver or other damage. They say it’s one day at a time on the road back to sobriety and full health, and that’s a road I’ve been on now for over 12 years. I consider myself to be well into my recovery and I know that for over a decade I have been exceptionally vigilant when it comes to my physical health – largely driven by gratitude for surviving twice as much time abusing it.
I’m now a competitive masters running athlete, regularly racing 21k, 42K and ultra-marathon (42k+) distances – it’s my thank you to myself for getting sober and staying that way.
I must admit, I felt anything but fit as my wife wheeled me into A&E with what she suspected was a stroke. I was presenting as uncoordinated, had some difficulty speaking, lost grip strength, and difficulty standing – it turned out I was severely dehydrated due to over-training for an upcoming 50k race.
Although I had been sober for over a decade the clinical team who assessed me – including the on-duty pharmacist – considered I might be drunk because of my symptoms. My addiction health history was fully in play. The duty pharmacist was full of concern and efficiently armed with a complete online reference of every medicine I’d ever been prescribed, and followed every other clinician with a repeated return to the same line of questioning – have you been drinking? And then to my wife, has he been drinking? Asking once was understandable, even laudable, but the refrain was unsettling, and worryingly (for us) distracting from what we thought might be going on with me.
On reflection, I know that I was being cared for and I’m rational enough to be able to see where they were coming from. But imagine if you don’t have that ability and you’ve got other biases working against you, such as race or language, and you also weren’t advocated for by a support person.”
Simon’s experience sheds light on the crucial need for healthcare providers to recognize and address biases when caring for individuals with mental health and addiction challenges. His experience is a reminder that a person’s past history should not overshadow their current health concerns and highlight the importance of fostering a healthcare environment that values each patient’s unique journey and ensures that their immediate health needs are not shadowed by preconceived notions. Simon’s journey of recovery and resilience serves as an inspiration, and his story urges us to work towards a more inclusive and compassionate healthcare system where individuals receive care that is free from bias and reflective of their true needs. He has inspired massively the work done as part of the SEE US campaign, read more about this initiative here.