Another post from Dr Caroline Reed O’Connor, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist in south-west London.
She is a co-founder of “Tea & Empathy”, a Facebook group for clinicians which provides “a national, informal, peer-to-peer support network aiming to foster a compassionate and supportive atmosphere throughout the NHS.” The support and compassion shown by all the members to those in the group who are struggling or just need advice is immensely powerful. I would highly recommend that anyone struggling should join this group.
Recently I’ve heard more stories of doctors struggling, more stories of doctors killing themselves, and still more stories of stigma around doctors having health problems, both physical and mental.
It has taken me a while but I now know this:
There is no shame in having a health problem.
There is no shame in being a doctor with a health problem.
I am a doctor. I have bipolar disorder. I am not ashamed of it. I am proud of the way I manage it and the job I do. I won’t hide it and I will keep speaking about it because it is ok.
If my patients find out that is ok. I wouldn’t mind them knowing I had a broken leg. I wouldn’t mind them seeing me with a bald head from chemotherapy. I don’t mind them knowing I have bipolar disorder. I don’t mind sharing on a public forum that I am a doctor who has bipolar disorder. There is no shame in it.
I don’t mind if you see me waiting to see my GP. I don’t mind if you see me collect a prescription from the pharmacy. I don’t mind if you see me walk into my therapy appointment. I don’t mind if you see me laughing, or crying or struggling to control my 4 year old in the supermarket like any other parent! I don’t mind if you don’t know much about mental health problems and you want to ask me questions.
I don’t mind because there is no shame in it.
What I thought was shame – was stigma. And stigma can be beaten with openness and honesty. It can be beaten with integrity and leading by example.
I don’t think every person should have to share his or her story. But if enough of us share eventually it becomes normal, boring even…
I for one am happy to keep talking until it gets boring! Until there is no more stigma. And no more shame.
If you have any thoughts or questions, or even a thank you to Caroline 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).