Really Destigmatizing Mental (and Medical) Illness
Recently I was asked to speak with a large group of resident physicians after one of their colleagues committed suicide the week prior. It was a hard discussion to have for a couple of reasons, including the fact that I had never done such a thing before. I had, however, gone through the same experience when I was in residency training–a colleague committed suicide when I was in residency as well. It was an event that impacted those that knew him, as well as those that did not. This is sadly a topic that is not discussed much–depression and suicide in physicians. Part of the difficulty in confronting this issue, is of course that doctors have a hard time asking for help for their own mental health. However, doctor’s rates of depression and suicide are higher than the general population–but on the other hand they have lower rates of cardiovascular disease.
One of the things I have personally struggled with during my training in medical school and residency, was dealing with depression. Unfortunately, although I was in a psychiatry residency, talking openly about being depressed was still a no-no. What it will take to destigmatize depression is being able to discuss it openly. So although it is hard, I will start in this forum. I have been depressed in the past. Finally after some time, at the encouragement of a friend years ago, I sought really good help for myself, and now I am a completely different person than I was back then.
I was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis six months ago. This is another issue I have been struggling with, but in the past couple of months I feel I have been able to get a good handle on it, in particular by managing the things I still have control over. One of the things that I have learned though, is that I have an easier time talking to friends about having MS; I never talked that openly about depression. I was worried what others would think of me, that I would appear weak, and so on. I felt that way despite knowing so much about depression and why it happens, how it’s treated, and how it affects people. It has been a struggle dealing with all my health issues, but I’m so glad I’ve had the determination to do it. That being said, I’ve needed a lot of help along the way, and for that I’m grateful too.
If you think you might be depressed, tell someone. Ask for help. If the situation were reversed, wouldn’t you help the person asking? It’s hard to manage these things alone. Happy mental health everyone!