#MyNameIs a healthcare professional with mental health issues. #MyNameIs mental illness.
My new campaign is all about healthcare professionals who experience mental health issues. To kick off the campaign I have asked other health care professionals to write about their experiences as guest posts.
I am a Student Doctor.
My favourite animals are rabbits.
I live in England.
I believe most people would have the impression that living with a mental health condition is made more bearable by being a healthcare professional, after all you should have a good understanding of mental health and this makes it easier to cope, right?
In my experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Being a student doctor, or in fact a student of any healthcare profession, is wildly different to being a ‘normal student’. The timetable is far more intense: I have teaching or hospital placement, all day, every day, and this can impact so many areas of your wellbeing, even for someone without a pre-existing mental health condition!
I have lived with Borderline Personality Disorder since I was around 14, although this wasn’t my formal diagnosis until 18. I am now 21 years old.
Over the years I have identified what helps keep me well, and what can send me into a mental health crisis, and the challenge of being a student doctor is lots of the structure I find helpful to keep my BPD in check, just isn’t possible.
I rely on making sure I get enough sleep each night, eating 3 meals a day, and allowing myself time-out to relax when I need it.
These might sound like simple activities that everyone can do, but the reality is with structured teaching up to 12 hours a day, commuting to and from placement hospitals many miles away and not having a moment to pop to the bathroom (let alone an hour for lunch!), means that in practice, basic self-care often gets left by the wayside.
Beyond the practicalities, the psychological strain that being a student doctor places on you can’t be overlooked. There is no question that I adore my degree and I cannot wait to qualify as a doctor; however, watching patients and their loved ones suffer and sometimes finding that there is nothing more than can be done for them is like nothing else.
I wish I could say that being in a healthcare profession would mean that when you reach out for support, you are met with kindness, understanding and the absence of judgement. And whilst this is occasionally the case, the progress that has been made in many professions around reducing mental health stigma has not been reflected fully within the medical community.
It is an assumption that we should be able to ‘just cope’, despite the fact that we are actually more vulnerable to mental ill health than the general population, that prevents individuals from reaching out when they need help. It is the fear that after all you have done to get to the point you are at in your training or career, someone will decide you aren’t cut out for it simply because of your mental health difficulties. Whilst clearly there has to be guidelines due to the nature of healthcare based roles, there is a distinct difference between identifying possible issues around Fitness to Practise and supporting those with disabling mental health conditions with reasonable adjustments, and using the presence of any mental ill health as grounds to undermine a person’s ability.
Unfortunately, the times I have tried to access support within my medical school, I have been met with ignorance and repeated suggestions that I should take a Leave of Absence, despite my continued efforts and above satisfactory academic achievement. However, support and guidance on a wider university level, for example a specialist mentor from the disability service to help with the difficulties I have around concentration, organisation and communication, has been invaluable.
To any other struggling medical students, I would say this:
your health must always be your priority.
The pressure and competition are immense; the fear that you will fall behind or are somehow inadequate is very real and I understand that entirely. But before anything else, you need (and deserve!) to be well. Not just for you, but for all your patients today and every day for the rest of your career. Finally, believe in yourself and surround yourself with people who believe in you. Because, sadly, there will undoubtedly be individuals ready to doubt you and question your capacity in your role, and the way I have found the strength to continue through my training despite this is with the encouragement from friends and family who remind me every day all I have overcome to be the student doctor I am today!”
I hope you all enjoyed this insightful post. If anyone reading this needs support below are some helplines and websites. Thank you for reading and a massive thank you to contributors of this series.
Look after yourself,
The Mix (up to 25)-020 7009 2500
Papyrus-0800 068 41 41