I had an interesting experience whilst holidaying overseas in July. I spent three days sitting on a beach with three girls currently studying at Oxford University in the UK. Esteemed as one of the most prestigious universities in the world, I was in the company of incredibly talented and inspirational young Australian leaders who are all funded by lucrative international scholarships.
On one of the days whilst sitting on the beach, the topic of discussion turned to mental health. Before long it was clear that all four of us had personally faced a mental health issue at some stage in the last five years. Between us we had faced: depression, anxiety, panic attacks and bipolar disorder. We sat on the beach and shared our stories and experiences discussing specifics such as medication, diagnosis, stereotypes and the effect that it had on our daily lives.
What was most interesting about this discussion was how tentative it started and how open and honest it finished. There were a couple of obvious truths: mental health will affect anyone, at any time. No one, not those who are exceptionally talented nor those doing ‘regular’ jobs or from socioeconomic disadvantage, are immune to mental illness. It was also apparent how susceptible those with Type A personalities are when at risk – and medical students are very much part of this group. It was comforting to feel that not only was it OK to talk about my own mental health and the experiences of others, but it was healthy. It felt great to be able to have an open and honest conversation with people whom I respected and trusted. It felt good to be able to quash the stereotype and embrace the opportunity to explore the mental health experiences of others.
Having a personal experience with mental health doesn’t make you weak and should not make you feel uncomfortable. It makes you normal – and human. Medical school is a rollercoaster and I imagine that life as a doctor will be as well. It is important that we place as much importance on our own health as the health of our patients. Just as I did, I encourage you to discuss your experiences with mental health should you find yourself in a similar situation to me and stop the stereotype.