As we are laser-focused on our protecting our physical health in the war path of the coronavirus pandemic, our mental health is also in the spotlight. Social distancing, general worry, and pervasive uncertainty about the near future have created more opportunity for us to be attentive to and care for our mental health. This topic is timely, for multiple reasons.
When we are not in a national crisis and hearing regular acknowledgements of the toll this crisis takes on one’s mental wellness, we have a history, as a country, of not talking about mental illness in the same way we talk about physical ailments. As a result of this, people who suffer from mental illness may deny their symptoms, hide any signs of illness, and avoid seeking treatment. Not seeking care can be life-threatening — and not only because of an increased risk of suicide associated with many mental health conditions. Mental illness is associated with increased risk of stroke, coronary artery disease, and dementia. Co-existing mental illness can also increase mortality in people with cancer, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease and in those following myocardial infarction or coronary artery bypass surgery.
No person is completely immune to mental illness. This includes us: providers. It should come as no surprise that there are clearly documented increases in the rates of suicide in health care professionals, including dentists, veterinarians, physicians(1). Yet what some may not recognize is that the same characteristics which allow us, as providers, to be successful in our careers — compassion, drive, commitment – may also be interwoven with or make us vulnerable to anxiety or excess worry and depression. The burden of being a clinician struggling with mental health may feel insurmountable — it may lead to feared or actualized threats to one’s job and professional identity.
We add to these layers the fact that we are military personnel. War, deployments, frequent moves and many other factors all take a toll on the average military member and can pose significant threats to mental health. The military has actively worked to destigmatize mental health treatment at all levels of leadership, and yet many individual members may still perceive this stigma and continue to avoid seeking help.
As we are a year on the frontline of battling the pandemic, we are talking about how mental illness manifests, how we recognize it in our colleagues, and how we work to manage our mental health. In this session, we explore some of the bias around mental health, ask you to consider the ways in which this might manifest for you and in your future practice, and reflect on ways to manage that.
By the end of RP 101: Mental Health, you (the learner) will be able to:
- Thoughtfully examine your own reaction to and biases about mental illness and people who suffer with mental health conditions.
- Identify and explore the sources of your reactions.
- Identify the positive and negative implications of your reactions for patient care in the future.
- Consider what you’ve learned about yourself in this reflection and in this time of national crisis.
- Bring a question for discussion and explore, in a small group setting, the kinds of attitudes and behaviors that put health professionals at risk for mental health struggles, and consider how we might mitigate that experience.
Reaction: As stimulated by the speakers on the videos and supplemental resources, identify at least one reaction to the narratives and at least one other to either the panelist or the supplemental resources.
Sources/Your Story: Explore the sources of these thoughts, feelings, and reactions, through your own narrative. As always, include specifics and be written in the first person. Your sources might include one or more of the following:
- Your experience to date with mental health conditions – maybe as experienced by yourself personally, in your family, or by your friends.
- Your perceptions of how mental health conditions are viewed in the military and medical communities
- Your perceptions of how various your cultural contexts may influence the recognition, acceptance and treatment of mental health conditions.
Implications: Keeping in mind what your reactions and the sources of those reactions reveal about your perspective on mental illness, analyze both the positive and negative implications of this perspective for how you might care for patients in the future.
Review: Consider what you’ve learned about your own mental wellness during this time of national crisis, how you’ve been coping, and how your response influences how you think about mental illness going forward.
Make sure to also include: What question would you want to bring to the group discussion to further explore?