Mental health stigma amongst doctors
I grew up watching Superman. Impressive guy … leaping tall buildings and all that. Just the kinda thing a young kid wants to do. Fast forward. During my psychiatry residency, I was having periods of clinical depression. It was weird to awaken in the morning with endless loops of suicidal ideation in my head and then that afternoon, hospitalize patients with the very same symptoms. I told no one.
Stigma about professional consequences
Too many physicians living with psychiatric disorders shun treatment, paying a terribly high price in morbidity and mortality. The rate of physician suicide is way high. Avoidance of care is understandable given worries about professional consequences like collegial disapproval and concerns about the potential impact on medical licensure. These fears are real, warranted and reason enough to eschew treatment. In addition to these hurdles, though, engaging in care and public disclosure are fraught with mental health stigma that arises in a status quo of secrecy and silence deeply ingrained in the medical community.
Our culture lauds physicians who are uber-competent and stoic. We expect practitioners to soldier on despite the unacceptably heavy burden they carry. We like our doctors to stop speeding bullets. But the intense pressures to perform can have the unintended effect of battering the psyche. It can feel like kryptonite is all around us, every day. Because of this, many suffer in silence. “Physician, heal thyself” becomes advice unattainable. We care givers have difficulty training our healing focus on ourselves and on our colleagues in need.
My antidote: humanity
Doctors can disrupt this stasis of demoralizing shame and challenge the destructive, avoidant status quo. After many years of trying hard to be Superman, I have finally arrived at a place of acceptance and well being. I found a way to navigate a pathway from being a care giver to becoming a care receiver by recognizing and integrating a healthier and humane inner story line. My humanity became the essential vehicle for my recovery. So, mine is a story of success and provides a template for other doctors (and for those curious or living with mental health conditions) who continue to remain locked in the grips on untreated psychiatric disorders.
I created a pathway to wellness and, as it turned out, leaping tall buildings and stopping speeding bullets was exactly the opposite of what I needed to do.
This blog was first published on 22 March 2020 on Dr John Budin’s blog Physician Living with Bipolar Disorder.