Tag: mental health stigma

The Awakenings Project

I took piano lessons when I was a child but didn’t continue to play once I crossed the threshold into adulthood.  As a kid, having the dexterity to move the fingers of my right hand to produce melodies while simultaneously striking chords with my left eluded me.  I gave it up.  About a decade ago, I re-engaged with the piano, using that part of my creative brain that had been dormant for too many years.  Weekly lessons kept me practicing and I found that I could immerse myself for hours on end.  It was transporting. During my hypomanic periods, it seemed that I could connect with music in a way that made it (and me) feel more alive.  I believed that I was creating something more richly moving than I could have achieved in my baseline mood state but perhaps I was merely experiencing it through the amplifying filter of my elevation.

The connection between artistic creativity and mental illness has been well documented.  No surprise given that what ends up on the canvas, in the musical score, in the written word or on the stage reflects our innermost emotional world.  Conversely, the arts can provide great healing to those who suffer.  Some of the most accomplished artists in the world have lived with psychiatric disorders:  Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Edward Munch, Georgia O’Keeffe, Hector Berlioz, Robert Schumann, Ludwig van Beethoven, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Edgar Allen Poe and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name a few.  Notably, many produced unimaginably beautiful art whilst in the throes of altered moods and psychosis.

Enter The Awakenings Project, (awakeningsproject.org) a wonderful nonprofit dedicated to fostering the creative efforts of artists living with mental illness.  Their award-winning journal, The Awakenings Review, publishes the works of artists, writers and poets who have psychiatric conditions.  I had the pleasure of having a conversation with Robert Lundin and Irene O’Neill, co-founders of AP.  Their efforts help reduce the stigma that too often touches the lives of those struggling with mental health issues.  In these difficult times, artistic creativity expands our world, provides us with comfort and allows us to experience deeper connections with ourselves and with those in our lives.  The arts move us in the direction of our most human selves.  We need artists now more than ever.

The Awakenings Project amplifies the voices of those who might otherwise remain unheard.  I’m proud to walk hand in hand with them.  We all have an obligation to support those courageous souls who share their stories with us through artistic expression.  Their efforts light a pathway forward encouraging all of us to step out from behind the shadows of silence.  Let’s support their bravery.  By doing so, we’ll be striking just the right chord. 

The antidote to mental health stigma amongst doctors: humanity

Mental health stigma and doctors

I grew up watching Superman. Impressive man…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. But, I told no one.

picture of woman hiding behind broken fence and peering out
Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

Stigma about professional consequences

Too many physicians living with psychiatric disorders shun treatment. They pay a terribly high price in morbidity and mortality. The rate of physician suicide is way high. We can understand how doctors avoid care given all the worries about professional consequences. Stigma against doctors is quite prevalent. Examples of professional consequences include collegial disapproval and concerns about the potential impact on medical licensure. These are the reasons that doctors eschew treatment, and these fears are real. Engaging in care and public disclosure are fraught with stigma. This stigma 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. However, we expect practitioners to soldier on despite the unacceptably heavy burden they carry. Similarly, we like our doctors to stop speeding bullets. But the intense pressures to perform can have the unintended effect of battering the psyche. So, it can feel like kryptonite is all around us, every day. Because of this, many suffer in silence. “Physician, heal thyself” becomes advice unattainable. So, care givers have difficulty training our healing focus on ourselves and on our colleagues in need.

My antidote: humanity

Currently, 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. I did this 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. It’s also a template for anyone who remains locked in the grips of untreated psychiatric disorders. I created a pathway to wellness and leaping tall buildings and to stopping speeding bullets What exactly the opposite of what I needed to do.

Do you have a Superman story? Let me know

If you are a doctor and would be interested in knowing what i would say to you, please click here