Depression is a word that has entered the lexicon of modern society in increasing numbers over the last decade. As the Internet has enabled connection, it has encouraged a vocalization of our feelings that in past years we would keep buried deep within ourselves. After all, it is better to share your pain with others than to shoulder the burden alone. Medicine provides an interesting context for not only depression but mental illness in general. Physicians are seen as bastions of calmness and stability, we should not be those who are afflicted with illnesses dealing with emotions and feelings, we should be protecting others from that fate.
I am a fourth year student wanting to go into psychiatry. At a recent interview, one of the faculty members at a program stated that he was encouraged to see that most of the applicants in the room had some type of struggle with mental illness, and that it could make them better psychiatrists because they had been through it. It is the first time I heard something said like that, and so flippantly at that. Rarely does medicine enable us to so openly discuss our struggles with our mental health instead of the struggle between us and board exams.
It’s 2019, we should be open to discuss our emotions, we should be able to verbalize them and make them known to the world if we please. But medicine sorely lacks in necessitating this from its physicians, nor does it encourage it. One shining beacon in medical school that I came upon was the narrative medicine meetings we held at my medical school. Snickers would echo as the room as we were shown clips from TV shows, told to read poems or articles, or told to express our feelings.
I won’t lie, I was a part of those snickers at times. You want to fit in, and I didn’t have the courage or bravado to defend what I thought was a noble practice. But now as I enter into the next phase of my life I think it’s become more important for me to shed that veil of fear and press on. It’s truly a time in our society where expressing your true self is at times more encouraged than keeping up this eternal façade just so we seem approachable.
I was depressed at multiple times throughout medical school. Whether it was due to the grades that I often felt defined my worth as a human being (this has been a recurring theme), relationships in my life faltering, or just having a terrible few days on a rotation, I felt lower than I ever did in my life. But just as I said earlier, now it’s become more appropriate, more open-minded, and more acceptable to just say how you’re feeling.
Because in the end who cares?
If someone defines your relationship with them based on the fact that you had a period of struggle with mental illness, they were not worth being in a relationship with in the first place.
As my chapter of medical school comes to a close I have a few pieces of advice of those bright-eyed students donning their white coats for the first time. This is going to be an arduous time in your life, as well as the most chaotic four years of your life. But you’ll get through it one way or another. Just try not to hide parts of yourself for the sake of others, you deserve that much at least.
Jeremy Sharma is a fourth year medical student at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University and is looking to enter a psychiatry residency program this summer.
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