I remember a recently admitted patient, nose-to-nose with his psychiatrist, screaming at her “you don’t know what I’m going through – how the fuck do you know what it’s like little missy?”.
The psychiatrist finished the discussion, saying she’d come back to him later, and after a brief pause to collect herself, moved on to the next patient in the ward round.
It is still an incredibly vivid memory for me, partly because everyone else in the room knew that the psychiatrist had been a patient herself, as she had a lifetime’s worth of experience dealing with her own mental health issues.
Study after study has shown that psychiatrists have higher rates of mental illness than the general population.
Research published in 2001 revealed that 56% of female psychiatrists have a family history of mental illness, and just over 40% have experienced one themselves – almost twice the rate of other doctors. Undoubtedly as a consequence, psychiatrists have double the rate of suicide of the general population.
Psychiatry is certainly a stressful job, but research has also found that there are higher rates of mental disorder in future psychiatrists, suggesting many go into the profession precisely because of their experiences.
Other mental health professionals are much less studied, but from my own experience, I suspect the histories and motivations of mental health nurses, psychologists and social workers and so on are are likely to be similar.
The reason I mention this is because Phil Dawdy has just written a powerful article on responses to a recent murder of a psychologist in New York.
Several people wrote comments to his original notice saying that the murderer was likely on a whole bunch of meds that were making him crazy; and, mental health workers hurt patients all the time, so they get what they deserve.
It is quite apparent that unlike in other areas of medicine, the mental health system has a ‘them and us’ attitude.
Ironically, it is the single area of medicine where ‘them’ are most like to be ‘us’, regardless of whether you’re a patient or a professional.
Link to Phil Dawdy on murder of a New York psychologist and reaction.