The movement to permit physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia has called our attention to the subjective comfort of the critically ill. It has become apparent that for a variety of reasons, the alleviation of pain and suffering has sometimes not been a priority for physicians. Nor has it become routine to call in mental health professionals for medically ill patients who are in distress.
Although many people have envisioned a great cooperation between medicine and the mental health professions, this cooperation has yet to be established. It is now needed more than ever, because new medical treatments push patients to their psychological limits and cause them to undergo psychiatric symptoms that are often not recognized or treated. Psychological weaknesses cause otherwise normal people to fail in the difficult endeavor of maintaining their health and treating their illnesses, an area of life in which they may face tasks more difficult than in any other area.
Perhaps in the next few decades, we will have more success in building this important alliance. In medicine, there is now a growing recognition that it is critical to maintain patients’ alertness and cooperation and focus on their subjective comfort and that it is critical to maintain communication with the family. In the mental health field, cognitive techniques, which are effective, feasible in a medical setting, easily understandable, not stressful, not stigmatizing, and time limited are more readily available. Given these changes in both professions, we may now have a chance to establish a much wider range of cooperation between medicine and the mental health professions than has ever existed before.