About four years ago, during my first interview for residency, right out of medical school, a seasoned physician with piercing blue eyes and a gray beard said to me, “I’ve read your application. Now tell me why you really want to become a psychiatrist.”
I regurgitated a résumé he already knew: my former life as a Juilliard music student, Rice University, Johns Hopkins, trips to China and South Africa. I ran through rewarding patient encounters from medical school. Contacts he might know at Harvard. Stories.
But I didn’t say the truth: Because I know what it feels like to be on the other side.
Why people don’t speak up
I’m a psychiatrist, husband, man of color, and proud wellness advocate. Every day, I see patients and tell them: Talk, speak up. But a decade ago, suffering from depression, I didn’t say a word. Men are raised to be strong. Not to show emotion. Not to cry. For a man of color, these expectations are amplified. And they’re killing us. Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for men in their mid-20s to mid-30s, third–leading for men in their mid-30s to mid-40s.
In that meeting, I was afraid. Of being judged as weak, which seemed disqualifying. It was as if this doctor could see right through me. So I hid behind my success. I felt small, stupid, and under siege.
My depression emerged when I was in college, and it came and went in my 20s. During that time, I functioned; things were better for a while, and then they weren’t. Depression can be episodic like that, coming in alternating waves of intense emotion and numbness. But I couldn’t talk about it.
That’s how powerful stigma is; it erodes our human instinct to call out for help and to survive. Stigma has prevented stories about mental health from ever being made public, even though we’re all vulnerable to it.
After months of silence, I was drowning and couldn’t pretend anymore. My family knew something was wrong, because I was isolating myself and getting thinner. I wasn’t sleeping. Son, it’s time to get some professional help. And at that time, I didn’t care enough to fight back.
The first therapist I saw spent an hour asking me questions. “What brings you in?” A breakup, a career transition, I’m lost. Actually, I don’t know what I said to him. It was artificial, corporate, and weird. I saw him once. He gave me his business card and had me promise I would be safe. I didn’t go back. Months later, I saw a psychiatrist on a computer monitor. She went through her checklist. I didn’t do that again, either.
I needed to talk but thought I couldn’t. Instead, I began to move. I rediscovered yoga, and something unlocked in me that helped me start talking. I was able to share what I was going through with those closest to me. And I began to get better.
How to talk about depression
Having a discussion about depression might seem worse than living with it. There’s a risk that when we divulge personal information, the conversation won’t go well. People will judge us or feel uncomfortable. Depression is constantly telling you to stay quiet.
I didn’t realize that I even knew how to talk. But I did—I’d just forgotten it. I’d spoken openly about my depression with a good friend during our first year of medical school, before I’d hidden in my job interview. We’d punctuate long hours with books by talking about home life and ambition, or just blowing off steam. I trusted him, and it seemed appropriate to tell him that “there was actually a time in my life when I was in a really dark place.” “What do you mean?” he asked. I shared my story with him. It was like any other conversation we’d had, and for the first time I understood that my personal battle with mental health didn’t have to be a family secret. Yet this discourse was only the first step toward getting past my own stigma, which I continued to struggle with for years. Now I know that the only way to end stigma is to have productive talks about mental health. To break the silence. One conversation at a time.
The places where men feel safe talking don’t always look like a therapist’s office. Clergy members offer not only an ear but hope, which is almost always lost in severe depression and important to restore in the healing process. Therapy groups usually don’t have a requirement for how much you have to talk, so you can ease your way in. Wellness practices like yoga and meditation may help people develop useful ways to adapt, such as breathing techniques.
Men don’t know where to start the conversation, even when they come into my office. The truth is, these conversations start anywhere.
If I had to go back in time to that residency interview, I’d say, “I’ve been depressed, and I recovered. And my experience gave me an empathetic understanding of the patients we’re commonly devoted to.” That would’ve been my most relevant qualification…and my greatest personal achievement.
Every time you talk about depression, you erode the stigma—yours and everyone else’s.
Source: Read Full Article