I was told a story the other day by one of my friends and was saddened and shocked to hear it. One of the doctors she had been shadowing expressed their view that 'only mediocre people suffer with depression, as clever people have no time for it'. I was stunned that prejudiced views like this still surround mental illnesses in this day and age, and disappointed that this came from the mouth of a healthcare worker who must see people with depression all the time.
Statistics show that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year, with anxiety and depression being the most common. Mental illness can affect anyone from any background, with any level of intelligence and from any culture or society. It is one of the most prevalent things in the world, and will touch everyone at some point in their life, whether it's directly or indirectly through somebody they know. Being busy also doesn't stop people from developing mental illnesses; in some cases it can make it worse. In fact, doctors are at the top of the UK incidence table for work-related mental conditions, alongside people in the armed forces - between 10 and 20% of doctors will become depressed at some point in their career.
Fortunately, I feel like the stigma around mental health is slowly starting to change. This year there was a lot of media coverage around Robin Williams' suicide, as well as events like World Mental Health Day to raise awareness. However, there is still a long way to go when stigmatised views still exist. Mental health isn't the same as physical health in the way that it cannot be seen, but when there are problems it can be as debilitating, if not more, than traditional illnesses like heart disease and cancer. People find it difficult to understand mental health conditions unless they have experienced one themselves or been close to someone else that has experienced one. It can be fairly easy to imagine having a crushing pain in the chest, or pins and needles in your hand for the rest of your life, but for many it can be difficult to understand irrational and negative thoughts, especially those that make people want to hurt themselves.
My generation needs to step up and change the stigma around mental health problems, especially students like me that will be working in the healthcare industry in the future. I think a lot of younger people are more understanding and open-minded about mental health and have been made much more aware of it than perhaps older generations were, and it is becoming more acceptable to talk about it. There is a lot left to be done, but please if you are reading this think about how awful mental health problems can be for people. Have a quick read of some of my other posts about depression if you like, to get more of an understanding of it. Especially if you're a medical student - you may only be one person, but you have the power to affect a lot of patients' treatments in the future, and if you understand how to manage their mental health it can improve their quality of life immensely. Please never be the person that tells someone with a mental illness to 'pull themselves together' - think hard before you speak, as it's amazing how much you can hurt someone without knowing.
Mental health conditions are extremely serious and nothing to be ashamed about - we should be able to discuss them more openly without feeling judged - perhaps then suicide would no longer be the leading cause of death in young men as they would have somebody to turn to and feel supported by.
Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but is more common and also more hard to bear.
- C.S. Lewis