Dr Cathy Wield successfully returned to work in emergency medicine in the UK after two bouts of major depression, which included hospital admissions and brain surgery.
Cathy is passionate about speaking out and reducing the stigma around mental health and has written extensively about her experience of being a doctor with depression (her books are Life after Darkness: A Doctor’s Journey Through Severe Depression and A Thorn in My Mind: Mental Illness, Stigma and the Church). She notes, however, that there is still room for improvement in the way that we respond to mental ill-health. Cathy is currently exploring a new medical culture, having recently moved to the United States.
Cathy says: “It seems that recovery from mental illness is not enough. Well, that’s the impression I get from our stigma-filled world. It was really bad when I was suffering from depression – when you have low self-esteem as a result of your brain chemistry, then often those who you know well, like family and friends, unwittingly betray their ignorance with ill thought-out advice or banal platitudes.
“Most of us try to do the right thing and seek advice from our GP and/or various other health professionals. Even then we cannot guarantee that we will be treated with the dignity and respect that we deserve. I was fortunate in that respect for most of the time during my illness, with the exception of some of the nursing staff during my inpatient stays and, of course, the various different specialities that I had the misfortune to come across after bouts of self-harm.
“There is still a long way to go to eliminate not only the stigma of current mental illness, but also of the past. While I worked in A&E until August last year, I did my utmost to be open about myself and to educate my colleagues. We are whole people, the mind and body are not separate entities and we all deserve respect and care regardless of our past or present symptoms, or what brought them about. But changing attitudes takes more time than I first thought.”