Stop the Stigma of Mental and Chronic Illness

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I’m a doctor. I have mental illness and chronic illnesses.  I am not ashamed.

It’s taken me years to get to the point in my life where I can say that and not feel shame. Where I can state it as fact and not apologize for it. 

The healthcare industry, and for that matter our society, is a wealth of contradictions. One of them being that healthcare professionals themselves are not allowed to be ill. How many times have you been sick and come in to work anyway? You know that if you call in sick, there is little chance for anyone to replace you, and that your whole team will have to work understaffed. If you are an independent doc, there is no one at all to back you up, and so your patients are forced to reschedule or go to the ER. 

Long term, chronic illness is meant to be buried away and hidden. We tell our patients that they should be open with us, that there is no shame in having an illness, but would we do the same for our colleagues? For as much as our healthcare systems have recently been on the wellness bandwagon, how many of them provide the day to day support for chronic illness? We are good at banding together in acute emergencies, but what about those long lasting issues that will be present for years or even a lifetime? 

Why can’t we acknowledge that we are human beings first? People are fallible, people get sick. It is not a personal failure, it is a fact of life. 

In the last few years, I have found the strength to acknowledge my health issues. Via social media by talking about it openly at work and home, I have admitted that I am in fact not an endless source of physical and mental well-being. I have bad days. I have migraines. I have chronic pain. I have anxiety and panic attacks. Conventional wisdom would tell you that this makes me weak. That it is somehow a failing of my own that I have these issues. That I should keep it to myself. 

But why? I am still the same person. I am still the same physician. Having chronic illness does not make me any less of a doctor. In fact, it’s made me have more empathy and be able to talk and connect with my patients on a real and intimate level. So let’s stand up for ourselves not just as medical providers, but as people. Let stop the stigma of mental illness and chronic illness, for everyone. 

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