The Irony of Learning to Save Lives, Yet Slowly Losing Ours.
Losing a loved one is never easy. It never is. The pain, and grief it brings to those left behind can only described as, well, indescribable.
These past two weeks have been a rollercoaster of events and emotions for the whole DLSHSI community, especially the College of Medicine. We lost two beloved students. Beloved by their friends, batchmates, schoolmates, and their families. As medical students we learn how to be doctors. We learn how to take care of others. We learn how to treat the sick. Heal those of infirm body, and mind. Yet we practically lost two future doctors to sickness of the body, and of the mind.
In this culture of glorifying sleepless nights, burn-outs, mental breakdowns, emotional draining, and other whatnots we tend to forget that we are merely human; we are not invincible. We are not unbreakable. We are not robots. We are simply humans who have sacrificed our time, our youth, maybe even our whole lives so that we could learn to treat, to heal, to cure, to care for others; but as medical students we tend to forget that we have one more valuable person to take care of. Ourselves.
Being a medical student we all know what we are getting into the moment that we decided to take up caring for the sick our vocation. It is a lifetime of studying and learning, missed holidays, birthdays spent in our dorms facing our books and notes; a lifelong devotion to what you want to be, and what you are meant to be. Some of us think that medical school will break or make you; why should it. Isn’t the whole purpose of studying medicine is so that we can save lives?
In my short venture as a psychiatric nurse in the National Center for Mental Health I have worked with various clients who have conditions encompassing the whole spectrum of mental disorders.
From the schizophrenic, to the depressed and manic; from children as young as seven to those who are old enough to be your great-grandfather or grandmother. Mental disorders can affect any one of us, some, more so. I have seen persons coming in the psychiatric emergency room being escorted by their loved ones, family, the police, or local government officers. Some even come of their own volition because, as they say in their own words,
“Hindi ko na po kaya.”
What many fail to see and understand is that mental health is inseparable from health as a whole. Just as the body gets sick so does the mind. Thus, a person with mental health issues or disorders is a sick person, and sickness is something to be cured. Not shunned. While there has been a gradual acceptance of mental health in the recent years, discussing it in the open is still considered taboo within the general Filipino population.
Politics, war, drugs, even sex is freely discussed at the dinner table or at a sit-down meal in a restaurant yet we all become uncomfortable when the topic shifts to mental health.
Why is this so, haven’t you asked yourself that lately? Perhaps it has something to do with how deeply ingrained it is in our culture? How we do not take the time to educate ourselves, and just leave it to the experts? In a country that is predominantly Catholic and Christian it is quite ironic that we resign as hopeless cases those who are suffering from mental illnesses. I believe that it is high time to leave our comfort zones. It is time for us to get uncomfortable because nothing will change if we stay inside our bubble of emotional safety. Change has never been brought about sitting idly by and waiting for it to happen in our lifetime.
Let us talk about depression.
Let us talk about a medical condition that is probably one of the most often dismissed, ridiculed, ignored, and maybe even feared.
Let us talk about the major reason why people attempt suicide. Depression is not merely feeling sad. It can cause severe symptoms that affects the way you think, and feel; your activities of daily living, the way you eat, your work, your studies, and in extreme cases it can cause you to take your own life. Anyone of us can fall to depression, especially without a strong social support system. What most do not understand is that someone may be having depression without showing the classical signs and symptoms.
Your happy-go-lucky friend, that topnotch classmate, the gym buff, the student leader, the heartthrob. Anyone of them could be having depression. Yet they hide it because they feel as though they will be treated differently; they fear that they will be ostracized, isolated, pitied, dismissed as being dramatic or emotional. What they need from us is support and understanding. I may sound like a broken record but it is the first step to helping someone with depression. Which is why there is a need for us to be more aware and learned on depression, and mental health issues as a whole.
I find it ironic that while we are learning to save lives we are slowly losing ours.
We study endlessly, come up with brilliant papers, practice our skills so that one day we will be able to put them to good use.
Yet what good are these acquired skills and knowledge if we lose our selves along the way. Losing one soul to the process is one too many. Medical school is hard, but it should not come to the point that it’s breaking down students one by one. It should not come to the point that students become emotionless automatons just to be able to cope with the stress brought down upon them. Depression in the ranks of medical students is very real. It has always been there, just never talked about.
With all these talk on depression, I would like to share something positive that happened recently.
A friend opened up to me that she thinks she may be having depression, but is unsure on what to do about it. We conversed for a while about her thoughts, her feelings, her fears, even her aspirations. Eventually we were able to bring out what she thinks may have been factors that contributed to her depression. The next day she was finally able to muster up the courage see her psychiatrist after delaying it for months.
To some it may be a trivial gesture, but for someone who has been battling crippling thoughts for the longest time this is a victory. To some I was just helping someone in need. For me, I may have just saved someone’s life.
We are all battling our own fights, and sometimes we can’t be bothered to help out with someone else’s. At some point in our lives we will need help. So, I will leave you with this question. Will you be someone’s last person to talk to, or will you be the one that helped them live for just one day more?
I encourage my fellow medical students to take a stand. Let us end the stigma surrounding mental health. Do not be ashamed to seek help, to seek consult.
Seeking help is never a sign of cowardice or weakness, rather it is the bravest gesture you can do for yourself. Acceptance is the first step to recovery. Let’s talk about it.
Francis Fondevilla is a nurse by profession, with a specialty in Mental Health and Psychiatric Nursing obtained from the National Center for Mental Health, where he worked from December 2011 up to the start of 2015. “Being exposed to the harsh reality of the situation of our mental healthcare delivery system I want to someday change the perception of the Filipino people for the better. If ever anyone wants to talk about their uncertainties or if they think they may have depression I’m open for a chat.”
He is currently a 3rd year medical student at De La Salle Health Sciences Institute. Team captain/President of Transcend Team.
A lot has been asking me to write about depression in medical school, but I have been putting off this topic, because I myself has been suffering.
From the deep sadness, my mind has been clouded brought by social anxiety, fatigue, and medical studies. Because of the high toxicity, I have been very sensitive and struggling that I cannot come up on something to inspire, because I myself is losing it.
Maybe in the right time, when I’m ready, I can shed a light with you too.
Thank you so much, to my friend and classmate, Francis, for this beautiful content. It will help and touch not only medical students, allied health professionals, and doctors, but anyone or everyone who may also be suffering silently.
If you find this helpful, PLEASE Share! Mental health is as important as physical health. Let’s sustain this advocacy of helping each other keep going!
Break the stigma
I find it really beautiful that you can empower anyone, anywhere through social media.
So Please Do Pass the Kindness On! You may save a life, by sharing this to your family, friends, and loved ones.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being you! See you on my next! Stay awesome, doctors!
Comment down below what you want to see next or even your story! I would love to hear from you. 🙂
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