I am fortunate to spend my working days in a career I find both fascinating and fulfilling. Medicine is a field in which there are virtually endless possibilities and within which a person can change focus without too much difficulty.
Psychiatry is one of the final frontiers within medicine. We still have so much to learn about the human brain, the disorders affecting it, and the treatments that can help alleviate people’s suffering.
Truly, I am privileged to be able to talk with people every day and try to offer some help when they are going through some of the most vulnerable and frightening experiences of their lives.
Without doubt, the most rewarding thing in my work is the heartfelt appreciation of people who have been helped. Often, if an individual has spent months or years struggling unsuccessfully with a mental illness on their own, getting appropriate treatment really does lead to a remarkable turnaround. It’s wonderful to see people truly get their lives back.
Of course, in any job there are aspects that can be difficult. In psychiatry, we are often dealing with patients who are depressed, angry, paranoid or psychotic. Often, the psychiatrist gets incorporated into a patient’s delusions or may become the object of anger and frustration.
Very often, people are angry at us about things for which we are truly not responsible. This is what easily happens when patients are irrational or misperceive what is happening. Although this can occur in many professions, psychiatrists and others in the mental health field are dealing with irrational people to a greater extent than most.
Unlike many other healthcare providers, psychiatrists have an additional function in restricting patients’ freedom due to mental health legislation. It becomes our responsibility to impose incarceration or involuntary admission when patients are mentally ill.
No longer simply a caregiver, we then stand between the patient and his or her freedom. Such patients don’t have insight and don’t see the need for hospitalization or treatment. At the time, they don’t view our involvement as helpful.
Psychiatrists are also exposed to the threats and intimidation of groups like scientology who oppose psychiatry – few other practitioners experience anything like this, with the exception of doctors performing abortions. This is an extension of the stigmatization of mental illness that our patients have to endure.
Generally, medical students choose psychiatry because they want to help mentally ill people and they are not prepared for the hostility, criticism and opposition they may be exposed to in their chosen field.
Although psychiatry is a difficult profession, I am still moved daily by the stories and lives I hear about and feel privileged to be able to assist people during what are often their most difficult times.