Tag: mental health treatment

Doctors are worried and depressed

The mental health of our nation’s doctors is not so good. Physicians are worried and depressed. The prevalence of psychiatric disorders amongst clinicians and medical students is depressingly high. The pervasiveness of clinician burnout has caught the attention of many in the medical community. But most doctors keep their mental health symptoms secreted away. They understandably worry about professional consequences if they do not. As a doctor living with bipolar disorder, I have shared my diagnosis publicly. I did this as an act of self-healing but also because I wanted to start a dialogue about a topic viewed as taboo.

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Doctors fear losing their medical license

In whispered confidential conversations with peers, I have come to see that many suffer in silence. They’re afraid of losing their license to practice medicine if their diagnoses were to become known. This worry is not far fetched. Currently, each state has a board that licenses physicians. Many of these states ask unfairly broad questions such as “have you ever been treated for a mental health condition”? So, any doctor who might have had a panic attack a year ago, for example, might feel that they’d be putting their vocation at risk if they were to divulge this. It’s no wonder that practitioners go into hiding. However well intentioned, the current system is misguided. In this status quo, no one wins. We can all agree that doctors don’t want to feel depressed and patients don’t want depressed doctors. All this is particularly frustrating because treatments are so effective and doctors (and non-doctors) can be their usual highly-functioning selves when they receive care.

Physicians are being sacrificed

It’s important that we have dialogues to disrupt this unhelpful status quo. State medical boards have a duty to oversee patient care by monitoring clinicians. Understood. But, In pursuit of this laudable goal, physicians are sacrificed. It’s possible to provide excellent patient care and have healthy physicians at the same time.

The simple answer: courage and conversation

Why can’t the powers that be sit down with medical community leaders and find common ground? This is not beyond our capacity. Have I placed my medical license at risk by acknowledging that I have bipolar disorder? Perhaps I have.

If my state‘s medical board tracked me down and informed me that my license to practice medicine was at risk, I’d hope that we could have a conversation. I’d ask them to explain how they believe the current system is helpful to doctors and patients, let them know that my peers are avoiding treatment and suggest that we work together to be a positive force so doctors can stay well. And what if despite these efforts, they suspended my license anyway? If so, it would be a chilling message to those who are in hiding to remain out of view. It would be a depressing coda to my story which has been one of success and triumph-a physician with bipolar disorder, well treated, stable and highly functional. Most important, I’ll think of my worried, depressed colleagues who are committing suicide at rates that should concern us all.

Thoughts? Reactions?

Unforgettable teachings from my bipolar patient

Except for the fact that I didn’t own the Bates Motel, for a long time I felt just like Anthony Perkins, hearing crazy voices from the room upstairs. For many years, the fact that I had bipolar disorder filled me with a corrosive and crushing shame. I lived with an endless narrative loop in my head that was harsh, cruel and replete with self-reproach. I avoided getting treatment for far too long for this reason. Let me share with you the unforgettable teachings of my bipolar patient.

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My bipolar patient teachings

This all changed when a warm and wise woman who suffered from bipolar disorder came to see me for a consultation a few years back. She relayed her story to me and it was remarkably similar to mine. Years of self-loathing and fleeing from accepting her diagnosis. I felt that it was a privilege to be invited into her inner world and empathized with her struggles. Rather than seeing her as damaged, I saw her merely as being scared. Rather than seeing her as pathological, I understood her vulnerability. It was her humanness that resonated with me. And then, what I had previously been blind to came into clear focus.

For years, fueled by shame, I had been running away from myself, trying to stay one step ahead of my “badness”. But what this admirable patient awakened in me was something I had known all along. We humans can have kindness and compassion for others that we don’t often enough bestow upon ourselves. I thought that surely I could find a way to rewire the way I spoke to myself, replacing the voices of self condemnation with ones imbued with the compassion and humanism I felt toward her. This was obvious, but back then it felt revelatory. Sounds trite but it was empowering to realize that I held my identity in my own hands. This finally allowed me to usher in an affirming sense of self.

A healthy inner story

I had found my way out of the darkness that had plagued me and was able to claim an inner story line that was healthy, undeniable and freeing. This has required me to continue to make active and conscious choices to picture myself through a lens colored with decency and fairness. My road toward health has not been a spectator sport.

During challenging times, I sometimes still hear the self-imposed crazy voices originating from the top floor of the Bates Motel. But whenever that happens, I reflect back on that brave patient of mine and remember the kind narrative she elicited in me. It works much better than living in a world where Norman is messing with my mind.

Any one have narratives (like mine) that have caused grief?

Click here for more unforgettable teachings from my bipolar patient.