No secrets, no shadows, no shame.
As a physician, I was taught early in my career to sacrifice everything for the ultimate goal of serving my patients. I was told that doctors don’t take sick days; we just put our heads down and keep getting the work done. This way of thinking made things much more difficult when I realized I needed help for my mental illness.
When he was a medical student, Leonard started to think he had a problem. Instead of having the usual ups and downs associated with the high-stress world of medical school, he found that his bad moods and bouts of depression came on harder and lasted longer and longer. Later, when he was well along in a successful career as a physician, Leonard felt burnt out and unfulfilled. His depression and thoughts of self-loathing deepened. It took time, but Leonard eventually decided to get help.
I didn’t get help right away for a number of reasons. First, in the medical community, a doctor’s work relies on reputation. The idea that someone might be impaired might ruin a reputation instantly. Also, I had a hard time admitting to myself that I needed help. I had a feeling that I could handle it.
But Leonard couldn’t handle it, not on his own. He quietly searched for a mental health professional who had experience working with physicians with mental health issues. When he found a qualified doctor, he made an appointment and started treatment right away. Now, with medication and weekly cognitive behavior therapy sessions, Leonard is changing his life. He recently left his job in medicine and started a new career as a writer and speaker focused on mental health issues.
Right now, I’m telling my story to others in the medical community. I want people to know that it’s OK to talk about their problems. I guess I’m still trying to help people. Once a doctor, always a doctor.
As part of telling his story, Leonard wants people to know that having a mental health issue does not mean that you cannot function at a high level on the job—no matter what job.
I was functioning quite well while I was getting treatment, and I know that many other people successfully manage their mental health and their careers. It should be as easy to talk about depression as it is to talk about a herniated disc or any other medical issue. Getting it out the shadows is a huge part of treating it right. No secrets, no shadows, no shame.