Before you read on with this blog post, please take the time to read this article published in the Student BMJ about Studying medicine with a health condition - otherwise this post won't make much sense!
Before Christmas I was contacted by Flavia Munn, the author of this article, to ask whether she could ask me some questions about life as a medical student with a mental health condition. She had already read parts of my blog before she contacted me, so she knew about my history of depression. We had a lovely chat on the phone, where she asked me lots of questions about my mental health and how I cope with medical school, and a few months later she emailed me with a link to the article that she subsequently wrote.
When I opened up the article, the first thing that struck me was that my name was the first thing I read - it made the article feel really real and personal, and actually made me think more seriously about my mental health. Reading something written by someone else that was so personal brought home how serious the incident of my overdose actually was. Before this article I never really sat and thought about how being in hospital had affected me, and what actually could have happened. At the time I didn't really care about what happened to me, so my overdose didn't feel like a big deal - it was just a way to harm myself, and I felt like it was what I deserved. However reading about my overdose in black and white brought home what I actually did and how serious it was - and I think that was a good thing for me and my recovery, as I was able to see that I would never want it to happen again.
The other thing that struck me was how horrendous my experience actually was, and I think Flavia explains that really well when she states, 'Hannah Venables had just finished vomiting, and her face was still wet with tears after a suicide attempt, when she was told: "pull yourself together"'. Nobody should have to go through that. Nobody should be made to feel ashamed of their illness, especially when they already feel so guilty about it anyway. Nobody should be treated that way by anyone, let alone a qualified health professional.
The rest of the article brought home how susceptible medical students are to mental illnesses - a Student BMJ survey found that 30% of medical student respondents had experienced or received treatment for a mental health condition while at medical school. I think that sometimes medical students are afraid of getting help for a mental health condition, because of the issue of fitness to practise (I was definitely worried about telling my medical school). However it is actually much more professional to admit that you need help and comply with treatment than suffer and become more unwell. Most physical or mental illnesses do not affect an individual's fitness to practise.
I actually think that going through depression will make me a better doctor. I have already noticed that I am more empathetic and understanding with patients, especially those with mental illnesses, and I think that I pick up on body language and social cues much more too. I'm also not hesitant to go and talk to patients with mental health problems - in A&E last week I had to help a patient who had self-harmed quite badly, and I felt comfortable and confident throughout (although slightly emotional - it's difficult to deal with something so close to my heart sometimes!). She thanked me afterwards for being so supportive and understanding, which was a really nice thing to hear. Flavia talks more about this in her article.
Overall Flavia's article made me feel proud of how far I have got, and proud of other medical students that have had struggles with their physical and mental health. It made me think about how many medical students do struggle whilst in medical school, but also how resilient and strong we are to still come out the other side as doctors.
One thing I know is that I'll never tell someone to pull themselves together!
Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness within you, even when you don't see it yourself.