We’ve seen them, and they are essential: medical ID bracelets.
They save lives, resolve confusing situations, and they look more charming than the “Hi, I have an allergy” button.
A bracelet can have the information a bystander or first responder needs to help the patient if something goes wrong. A bracelet saying “peanut allergy” can change panic into controlled action.
What would happen if wearing medical ID’s for mental disorders became common?
What if someone had a bracelet saying that they are depressed, bipolar, schizophrenic, or have an anxiety disorder? To my surprise, the production of those ids is common, but they’re not used nearly as much as “regular” ids. Instinctively, it’s not hard to guess why.
Read about what I think are the upsides and downsides of this concept.
Photo sources from https://www.americanmedical-id.com/mental-health
1. More adequate responses.
The first one is obvious because it’s the very purpose of the bracelet. If something happens to a patient, then the bracelet can tell a bystander what they are dealing with and tell them what to do. It prevents people from making the wrong decisions, or even not doing anything at all.
Generally, ID tags are meant for first responders, but I also think it can clue in a citizen about what they are seeing. The biggest problem with helping someone who suffers from a mental disorder is that people don’t know how to recognize the symptoms. A bracelet that has the most basic information engraved in it, can resolve that.
2. It can break the taboo.
Mental health problems are often treated like secrets. If you’re on a date, you can easily say “I can’t eat that, I have a peanut allergy.”
Why can’t you say, “I shouldn’t have wine, I have depression and alcohol is a trigger.”
Why is the first statement normal, but is the second statement something to be ashamed of? Because we act as if.
But being able to openly talk about how you take your ailment seriously, should be considered a good quality in a person.
Putting a spotlight on disorders is the first step to normalizing them, and the bracelets could help with that.
3. It’s a conversation starter.
This ties together with the previous point; anyone wearing a medical bracelet, experiences that people become curious and ask about their condition. Patients with mental disorders (this applies to a lot of physical ailments as well) carry their problems like a hidden burden. If people draw them out to talk about it, the patient might find how many people relate to what they’re going through, and that can lift the burden off their shoulders.
Three downsides to the idea.
1. Allergic to the spotlight.
There is another reason why people don’t talk about their disorders other than the reigning taboo and that is they don’t like to put attention on it. People who are sick all the time, deal with the sickness, all the time. Their bedtime, their daily routine, what they eat, do and what they can’t do is dictated by it. Sometimes, the last thing you want is for it to become a part of your social conversations. Sometimes it’s even as simple as that people don’t want to talk about it, or just aren’t comfortable sharing with strangers. They deal with it alone.
2. Everyone deals with the same disorders differently.
Every bracelet would need to be unique because everyone needs a different response. Not everyone has a panic attack, meltdown, depressive or manic episode the same way. For a bracelet to be effective, it would have to show what disorder the wearer has, what an episode looks like, and how to deal with it. That is a lot of information to fit on a small piece of jewelry.
People may not wear them because they’re worried about getting negative attention. I don’t believe that this is a reason to not use them, because I truly believe that the best way to deal with bullies is to deal with them as a collective. If a majority group can normalize the bracelets by making them common, while not responding to the negative attention, bullies become powerless. Shying away from using a tool that could be helpful, especially because of the taboo bullies can bring, defeats their purpose.
I still want to mention it, because it is a very real reason why people might not want a label slapped on their wrist.
The benefit of having a diagnosis and a label is that it provides the patient with the facilities that improve their quality of life. But right now, if someone breaks down or has an anxiety attack, there is so little understanding about what’s going on that they’re just expected to take a deep breath and go on with their day.
This is particularly true at work, but most situations expect a lot from patients with crippling disorders or ailments. Solidifying a condition the way we do with physical ailments, gives bystanders more of a frame of reference for what they’re dealing with, gives supervisors and employers more of a leg to stand on if something goes wrong with their employee, and even if the patient may not want it, it could help them get out of their “I must do this alone” mindset.
If your peanut allergy is set off, you’d let someone inject you with an Epi-pen, why not let someone do breathing exercises with you when you have a panic attack?
Conclusion: should we start wearing blunt and to the point “mental disorder bracelets”?
It's perhaps still a little ahead of its time, but I do think it’s worth considering.
The bracelet doesn’t have to be scream “SEVERE BIPOLAR DISORDER”, but something like “in case of a manic episode, call xxxxx”. It’s instructive enough that it could prompt someone to call the number if the patient seems weird, even if they can’t identify manic episodes themselves, but is not blunt enough to force the patient to be in the spotlight. It will intrigue a friend to get to know them, but a stranger won’t look twice when they pass them by.
And most importantly, it contributes to the person’s safety, an extra chance for someone to intervene before they could get hurt.
This is a concept that requires a lot more thought, but if you scout the internet, then you can see I am not the first to talk about this, and there are services available to have a bracelet made.
A medical ID bracelet that is already commonly used in the mental health awareness movement is a bracelet for bipolar disorder, which makes perfect sense for me since a manic episode can become extremely dangerous.
Patients won’t always be attracted to wear a tag that says “Hi, I’m sick.”. But, if we can normalize it, the benefits would be tremendous.