Depression 'catastrophic' career-wise

Last updated 13:00 11/06/2014

DARK DAYS: One in four people suffer from a mental health condition over the course of their lifetime.

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People ask me why I didn't seek help earlier but the condition crept up on me slowly.

There was no eureka moment between the point of normality and the onset of depressive illness.

It also took me longer to accept because I am a doctor and the consequences of mental illness in the medical field are usually catastrophic career-wise.

In hindsight the signs and symptoms were there - lack of sleep due to chronic anxiety, self-medicating with increasing amounts of alcohol and sleeping tablets, having very little energy to do even the most basic chores and constant thoughts of suicide.

I made my first suicide attempt while living overseas, socially isolated and during a period when I had tried to stop drinking. Since then I've probably made four or five more attempts, twice requiring hospitalisation.

I've been put on numerous medication regimens and my initial non-compliance lead to my undoing on more than one occasion.

I've had psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Thankfully after three and a half years, I found a psychiatrist who I could trust and who takes a holistic approach to my mental health.

He emphasises exercise, proper diet, social interactions and most importantly taking my medication and abstinence from alcohol.

It hasn't been easy to drag myself out of that dark place but I have been discharged from psychiatric care and now feel as good as I've ever felt. 

The biggest challenge is getting back to work. I was an excellent doctor at the top of my profession but I've been off work for the best part of five years.

I believe I have a lot to offer, particularly as a result of my life experience. The medical council wants me to sign a form saying I will stay well -  difficult with a condition that by its very nature is chronic and relapsing.

I have approached district health boards across the country to try to get some re-exposure to medicine by doing a period of non-paid observership. I have explained my condition only to be rebuffed by all those I have approached thus far (that's if I even get a response, all this without a face-to-face meeting).

This country has invested over $100,000 in my education and despite 40 per cent of New Zealand's doctors being overseas-trained I am now looking abroad to resume work.

Having mental health problems is considered a sign of weakness.

It's hard to explain that one in four people will suffer it at some stage of their lives.

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I have numerous colleagues who have ended their lives rather than expose this 'weakness'.

I'm one of the lucky ones - I'm still here. 

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