(This is the first of a series of interviews with badass feminists in the healthcare world.)
Kate DeWolfe is a patient representative located in Brattleboro, Vermont. They are both a patient and a provider, and dedicated to improving psychiatric treatment for all.
How would you describe yourself in a healthcare setting (i.e. patient, provider, etc.)? Do you have any medical or mental health conditions you’d be comfortable sharing?
I work as a patient representative/peer advocate employed by Vermont Psychiatric Survivors for patients who are involuntarily committed in psychiatric hospitals or who are otherwise under the care of the commissioner of the Department of Mental Health. I visit patients individually at the Brattleboro Retreat and run peer support groups at the Windham Center, Meadowview Recovery Residence, and Hilltop Recovery Residence. I also am a member of the Consumer Advisory Council for the Brattleboro Retreat. I advocate for patients rights including the right to shared decision making and informed consent particularly with regards to treatment using psychiatric medication. I advocate against the use of seclusion and restraint (both physical restraint and chemical restraint, i.e. forced drugging.) I attend treatment team meetings at the patient’s request. I also assist patients with navigating the hospital’s formal grievance procedure. I can also be a support during the court process for involuntary commitment.
The state of Vermont defines a “peer” as an individual with lived experience. I have a history of psychiatric diagnoses, hospital stays, and medication. I had acute lithium poisoning while taking a therapeutic dose of lithium, which temporarily caused slurred speech and parkinsonionisms (shaking hands and jaw). I have mostly recovered form being poisoned by lithium, but I think I may have some residual effects. I feel like I was not properly informed of the many risks of the medications I was prescribed, which is why I now do the work that I do.
How do your conditions affect your day-to-day life? Your long-term plans?
I don’t like to think of myself as having any conditions. There is so much subjectivity and room for error within all of the diagnoses I’ve received that I feel justified in simply rejecting them. Believing that I was ill made me feel trapped. I don’t really make long-term plans. I just do things.
Do you experience barriers to care? How so?
My psychiatric diagnoses are part of my medical records. When I seek care, particularly for chronic pain, I sense an attitude that my experiences are invalid due to these diagnoses. I’ve been encouraged to take psych meds nearly every time I brought up chronic pain with doctors.