The ‘Stigma’ of Being a Psychiatrist

This blog post is a rant that I’ve wanted to make for a while now. I held back in the past because whenever I got close to writing it, I always thought that I was unqualified to make it. To jump straight to the point – as a Medical Student suffering from mental illness, I feel that the notion that psychiatry is somehow a ‘joke’ speciality amongst the Medical Community is unhelpful at best, and dangerous at worst.

Don’t get me wrong, I am confident that the Medical Community mean all these comments as nothing more than a joke to help themselves get through the day. Nor am I trying to say that the community make these jokes intending to cause a problem. I have the upmost respect for all of my fellow medical community, whether they are doctors, nurses, medical students or so on. I do hope, however, that by writing this, people will be able to understand where I am coming from.

The reason why I did decide to eventually write this blog post was because of an article that I read on the Telegraph. Sure, this was aimed more specifically towards GPs but much of the same applies to Psychiatry.

From a Medical Student Perspective

For right or wrong, there can be no denying that Medical Students tend to be a erm…rather competitive bunch of people. Often after having topped school (not speaking about myself here!), we are all thrown into a world full of people who, like us, are always striving to be the best. Sure, this is unhealthy but regrettably, this nature does exist. Not only does it cause a problem for ourselves, least of all because the competition is very much pointless, but this ‘competitive drive’ seems to result in a problem for specialities who are often mocked. A speciality like…psychiatry, for example.

Let me explain. Often, we joke that psychiatry is not “real Medicine” or is an easy speciality to get into. Given the competitive nature of us Medical Students, this seems to automatically drive us away from choosing specialities such as these. We don’t want to end up turning into this ‘joke’ whilst all of our other colleagues are going into specialities such as cardiology, neurology or plastic surgery, for example. But for psychiatry, the problem doesn’t stop here.

Mental Health treatment needs massive improvement. There is no denying of this. A big issue with mental health treatment is how underfunded, underresourced and understaffed it is. The last point here is key – understaffed. How can we expect to increase the number of psychiatrist if we ourselves are making them out to be a joke? Sure, it could be argued that it’s only that – a joke with no meaning behind it. But that is irrelevant. Whether it’s meant as a joke or not, the outcome remains the same.

Similarly, I don’t feel we are doing our psychiatrist colleagues justice by making fun of their speciality. Having been a patient – and I will talk about this in a bit – I have seen just how difficult their jobs can be. Not only do they have to try to overcome the ‘underresourced issue’ to help out their patients, but they are also offered very little reward for what they do. I don’t feel like we are doing them any favours by further making fun of what they do.

From a mental health patient perspective

If I take off my Medical Student hat for a second and keep my patient hat on for a second, I can see a number of further problems arising from the issue. I feel that these problems are even more severe as a patient.

Let’s go back to the notion that psychiatry is not ‘real Medicine.’ This one truly upsets me to hear because in some ways, I feel that it fuels the stigma attached to mental health in general. The question that always strikes my mind when someone says this is: Why? Why do we, even jokingly, consider psychiatry not to be a ‘real’ branch of Medicine? Is it because of the whole concept of mental health? I sincerely hope not. Or is it because of how difficult mental illness is to treat? If so, that hurts as a patient – if my own doctors don’t think I will get better, how can I?

From a patient perspective, the fact that psychiatry is underresourced, and that this ‘banter’ is not doing any favours, is quite clearly an issue. Sure, it is demotivating for psychiatrists but more importantly, what about us patients? I am aware that I sound a bit like Maude Flanders, “Will someone please think about the patients!” here but I can’t think of another way to get the point across. I’m not going to write an essay about why being underresourced is not the best for patients, because most of it is self explanatory (unless, perhaps, you are a health secretary trying to impose a contract that’s going to end up doing exactly that…but who would do that?!).

Final words

Just to reiterate – I do not for a second believe that the medical community mean any sort of offence by making these jokes. I am not writing this with the objective of telling people what they can and cannot say. Rather, I am just trying to open some thought or debate into the matter. I have the upmost respect for my fellow community and am proud to be part of them, where they do amazing things every single day.


2 thoughts on “The ‘Stigma’ of Being a Psychiatrist

  1. Thank you for this article. Some excellent points here. For too long mental health has been stigmatized and joked about by society at large. Everyone must change their way of thinking, including the medical community.

  2. You are correct and there is a lack of resources. But because of this, at least in the US psychiatry is a joke. The practitioners refuse to accept insurance making it a bastion for the Upper Middle class whether they need it or not. Working Class Mentally Ill need not apply- just go live under a bridge (I am humming home of the free as I write this). There are, allegedly clinics for the financially fragile mental ill. But try getting to one. You will have more luck catching a unicorn.

    Okay, so you have the cash to see one of the private Psychiatrists, YEAH! Poverty sucks. Now we can fix this unipolar depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, foot fetish (oops over shared there). You walk in and there he/she is. A solo practitioner almost EVERY time. Importantly this means you need to coordinate your mania/episodes with their vacation schedules as they have NO backup. Not a colleague, Not even a secretary. You will get a message to call 911 in an emergency. Did you ever go to the emergency room with a psychiatric issue? You are better off handcuffing yourself to a radiator and waiting for the episode to pass.

    But you’re right, you’re right I am being overly pessimistic. Let’s walk into the Lair, I mean the office of this solo practitioner. what’s your choice? Prozac? Effexor? Wellbutrin? Name your poison. There is a gumball machine with any and all of them. You WILL get an antidepressant. Even Tinkerbell gets an anti-depressant. You see if the only tool a person has is a hammer, every problem will look like a nail. So you get hit with the Anti-Depressant hammer. Now if you are bipolar this may force you into the Mother of All Mania but as long as it hits before the Doc leaves for vacation, you may not die.

    You see, I have a great deal of respect for doctors. Most that I know are not in it for the money, but rather they care about and end up caring for people. But there is no support for mental health. Research is mired in the 1800’s (Lithium, really?) because of a lack of funding. The practitioners are stymied because Piranha, I mean health insurance companies don’t have to pay them. And let’s remember Health Insurers want you to get better fast or die. It is the in between that costs them money. And finally, there is the Stigma. No one wants to be the butt of a joke. For many it is easier to live under that bridge than to seek care from an uncaring and indifferent psychiatric “system”

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