by Medical Student thedepressedmedicalstudent.
When I was approached by Respect Yourself to make a blog post, two feelings floated through my mind. The first was gratitude at being asked to contribute to a charity with such a worthwhile cause. The second was confusion at what I should write. What, I thought, would be a good topic to try to help as many people as possible?
Eventually, I was set on writing about my experiences of coping with depression. I am a Second Year Medical Student who suffers from severe depression. This sentence seems very easy to write, but the reality of being able to reveal it to anyone is anything but. There is, sadly, a huge stigma associated with any mental health issue. Depression is no exception. I mention that I am a Medical Student to demonstrate that mental health does not discriminate. It can affect absolutely anybody, no matter how ‘trained’ we are in dealing with these things. It is a wonder, therefore, as to why this stigma still exists today. How is it that an illness that can strike at any time, to anyone, is still seen as such a taboo subject?
Regrettably, I don’t have the answer to this. What I do know, however, is that it is this stigma that prevents many people, young and old, from seeking the help that they very much need. Indeed, this was the case for me through my first year at Medical School. How will people react to my depression when I open up to them? Will I be given the support that I need, or will the response from others end up making my depression worse? And, from a Medical Student perspective, will I still be able to become a doctor even though I suffer from mental health issues?
For me, deciding to take a leap of faith and opening up to my tutors proved to be a very worthwhile step. I cannot thank my tutors enough for all the work that they have done for me. Even at my lowest, when I ended up admitted in a psychiatric hospital, they were there for me, assuring me that things would get better, that I could still become a doctor and that they would stand by me whatever happened. If there is anyone else in a similar position to me (medical student or not), I would seriously recommend opening up to your tutors if you can. It does seem to be a bit of a hit and miss between different tutors, going by anecdotal stories, but the benefit that it can bring is enormous.
It is not just tutors either who I have found to be helpful. For me, opening up to friends and family has – albeit, with many twists and turns in between – helped me get through this. It is no lie that our friends and family want what they think is best for us. Yes, there have been times when they have become frustrated at me. Times like this do hurt. If it were a physical health condition rather than mental health, the frustration would have been said to be unjustified. With mental health, however, suddenly it seems to be OK. What I do also know, however, is that despite this frustration, my friends and family have always stuck by my side. No matter how difficult it may be for me to have a clear frame of mind, they have not been afraid to leave me. And for that, I am grateful.
There are other, perhaps more unorthodox ways that I have found helpful at Medical School too. As Medical Students, we have the privilege of going to see patients from a variety of backgrounds. It is often said that doctors and Medical Students inspire their patients, but I think the truth is very much the same the other way round. These patients have absolutely inspired me. Obviously I cannot go into too much detail about them, in that I want to respect their right to confidentiality, but many come from a variety of backgrounds and hearing their stories helps instill a belief that if they can get through such difficulty, I can too. Not only this, but a lot of them seem to be grateful towards us for listening to them and being there (not that I feel like I do much!). Helping others in this way helps me. Perhaps this is why I try to volunteer in as many things as possible, or enjoy blogging about mental health issues.
Finally, my most unorthodox way of coping has to be what I call my ‘clock technique.’ This may sound very odd, but in times of difficulty or distress, I look at the seconds hand of the clock as it ticks by. With each movement of the second hand, each tick, each second passing, I am one more second towards feeling better again. Even as I am typing this now, as you are reading it, we are getting closer and closer to something good happening, to recovering from this horrible illness.
That time will surely come.
About the author: thedepressedmedicalstudent is a second year Medical Student at Imperial College London with the aim of breaking the stigma associated with mental health. He writes articles to help address common and not-so-common issues in relation to mental health in the Medical community.