This story really moved me. It shows real courage, determination and inspiration.
As the author observes, her story illustrates that
“It’s okay to be mentally unwell and be a GP. You can get better.”
She hopes to help people realise that “sometimes burn out symptoms could be undiagnosed anxiety/depression which would be amenable to treatment” as it was in her case.
“I have a mental illness, (anxiety and depression) and I happen to be a GP. One in 4 people have mental health issues but it appears GP’s aren’t supposed to. I wanted other GP’S to be aware that it’s okay to be ill, to still practice, if you want to and are able to, and to recover.
I have been mentally unwell for many years but never wanted to acknowledge it for a variety of reasons including stigma, career aspirations and concerns about how it could impact me and my practice financially. Eventually when I was no longer able to open letters at home for fear of something dreadful being inside or I no longer felt I was good enough to be a GP or a mother or wife, I wrote down how I felt. After several weeks I found the courage to book a GP appointment and I took the note and the GP read it and he was very kind to me.
Naturally there was lots of questions about whether it was my job making me ill, was the pressure of being a partner in a financially unstable practice making me ill? Was I burnt out? Was I fit to practice? Was I a risk to others or myself? My GP thought I had depression and I agreed to trial medication and pursue therapy.
It took a lot to swallow a tablet and to become a patient and admit I was unwell. It took a lot more to convince others that I could carry on working and be safe and not cause my practice to suffer also. I did it though, and three changes in medication, a revised diagnosis of anxiety and depression, nine months of private psychotherapy and a very understanding and experienced private psychiatrist later, I am well. I cope with uncertainty. I am positive about the future, whatever it may hold for General Practice as I feel strong enough to adapt. I enjoy practising and I try to be the best GP I can be for my patients.
My point is, that it’s okay to be mentally unwell and be a GP, and you can get better. If you are in this situation and have bleak days like I did where I wanted to just stop breathing or when tears rolled down my face and I had no idea how to make them stop or why they came, please seek help. It’s okay. Things do get better. I was frustrated by the speed of NHS provision for my needs and so paid for private care which seemed wrong at the time, but was a good investment for myself.
I have been a GP for 12 years as a partner and I feel it getting tougher year on year. This is why it is vital that we look after ourselves and if we are unwell acknowledge it and go to the right people to get it fixed. We deserve a better occupational health service and I am encouraged to read this may happen soon.”
If you have any thoughts or questions, or even a thank you to the author for sharing her story, please do comment below. It takes a huge amount of courage to share something like this. (You will need to sign in here to do so if you don’t already have a WordPress account).
I will be posting a follow-up to this story, looking at what this doctor found helpful to enable her to stay in work, how she manages the side effects from medication, what actions / techniques help her stay well.