This post is something of a departure from the usual fayre, in that it is far more personal, and, for a number of reasons, much more difficult to write.
I know more than a couple of people who decided against a career in healthcare due to their mental health issues, with depression and bipolar being cited as the chief afflictions. They felt they would be judged by colleagues and potential employers, perhaps being overlooked for postgraduate positions or being seen as an inferior member of staff.
The very nature of mental health conditions such as these means that every day is a struggle in and of itself regardless, and this is only exacerbated when depression is at a particularly debilitating level. Often, once the sufferer has climbed the seemingly impossible mountain that is just getting out of bed, having to face an interview wherein the disclose or discussion of one’s pertinent medical history would be a requirement, is akin to reaching the top of Everest, only to find that it’s doubled in size. It’s overwhelming. The fear of being judged and viewed as damaged can stop a person for whom depression is an issue, from doing a multitude of things.
I know this, because I suffer with these things.
I was diagnosed as being bipolar when I was 16. Since then I’ve overheard colleagues in various places say (not about or directed at me, I’ll add)“it’s just the grumps- get over it”, “everyone has bad days and THEY manage to pull themselves together without attention-seeking” or that they “don’t believe in rubbish like [depression]”.
I’ll just add, that I’ve been slightly misleading: these three comments weren’t from a variety of places. They were from the staff in a hospital. One hospital ward, to be more specific.
These comments emanated from people who deal with and treat illness on a daily basis, and often these illnesses aren’t directly visible. Why, then, is a mental health illness less credible than a physiological one, even if it also, can’t be seen?
Hospitals have upped their game when it comes to mental health training, so I’d assume that due to the increased awareness, opinions such as these are slightly less commonplace, but there is still a lot more that can be done; subjects like this are still difficult to discuss and there still exists a fear upon doing so.
I have no doubts in my abilities as a healthcare scientist. I’m confident in everything I have learned thus far, and have proved as such through testing and assessment. I’m not frightened of learning everything else that I have to in order to qualify and more, either; I relish the challenge. My issues lie in the everyday tasks that my colleagues seem to be able to do, that I cannot. For example, I have of late, found it incredibly difficult to climb the aforementioned first mountain, and get out of bed, and I hate how weak I feel it makes me. I have a crippling fear of failure, despite enjoying challenge and I sometimes loathe that one is quite often more powerful than the other despite my best efforts.
The thing is, when I’m happy, I’m REALLY happy. I’m enthusiastic, talkative, and willing to do anything, but in the back of my mind, there’s always the knowledge that it isn’t going to last; I’m going to come crashing down and revert back to a miserable person to be around. It’s these days that I can’t face leaving the house unless I absolutely have to. It’s these days that I’d rather complete lectures from home, in solitude.
I haven’t missed a day’s work in my life, without good reason (case in point: nearly losing the end of an index finger in a professional kitchen blender, getting it stitched and, despite everyone but my boss telling me how moronic it was, returning to work on the same day), so it isn’t as though I choose to stay home and work because I’m lazy or work shy, or that I simply can’t be bothered, I think it’s because of the fact that because the work material is provided online, it means I can if I need to. I take some solace in the fact that my mental health issues have never stopped me from going to work, so I know that they won’t stop me from doing my job in the future, just that I might be less exuberant sometimes, as I do so.
The one thing I took on board from my ex-colleagues was that everyone does indeed, have bad days. The majority of people get through these bad days, too. I’m going to do the same. I won’t quit, no matter how difficult it may be, because I’ve worked very hard to get here. I’ve been in a battle with my own brain for a long time, and I’ve been winning, so there’s no way I’m going to stop now.
The more people that speak up about issues like this, the less taboo it will become, and the less room for stigmatism there will be. It isn’t something that falls squarely at the feet of sufferers, either, it’s something that everyone has to recognise and talk about. It isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. Mental health issues aren’t going to go away, but the ability to manage them has moved forward tenfold in recent years. Attitudes towards the subject now need to catch up.
If you, like some of my friends, are put off pursuing a career in healthcare because of mental health issues, don’t! You’ll be surprised at just how strong you can be. You’ll have bad days and good days, sure, but you’d have them anyway, wouldn’t you? Your good days will feel so much better if you’re doing something you want to do.
Thank you for reading. This is far from my whole story and I apologise if it seems slightly disjointed in places, but this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write.