The musings of a final year medical student

Sunday, 24 January 2016


1) Accepting it's a problem and that it's a real disease
What held me back from my diagnosis of depression was my own stigma. I was scared people would think I was lazy, or that I just wanted attention. For many people, they cannot accept they are depressed because their life looks great on paper, and that their problems aren't 'real problems'. They are real, and you won't get better if you don't address them. Ignoring a problem has never made it get better. 

2) Educate yourself about depression
You MUST read this book by Dr Cantopher. He is a UCL-educated psychiatrist and he explains in such a brilliant concise way how depression affects the brain and the pathways involved (it's also great anatomy and therapeutics revision). It's a tiny book so you can read it very quickly. In addition, he explains the ways in which different anti-depressants work. If you choose to take anti-depressants, read the damn leaflet that comes in the box. Learn about your medication, its side effects and its mechanism of action. This will help you understand what's going on in your body and gives you a sense of power because you understand depression better. 

3) Being honest with yourself, friends and family
When your mate asks how you are, take a leap of faith, let yourself be vulnerable and tell them how you really feel. Being honest with my friends and family has made everything so much easier. Yes, it was hard, there were lots of tears, but the more I discuss it the better I feel. This does not have to be a disease you must hide from the world. In addition, if you are at university like myself, tell them. You may not know it but your uni will offer loads of support. Most unis have a free counselling service and will allow you to retake or defer a year based on your diagnosis of depression. 

4) Be willing to try
I was absolutely petrified to try anti-depressants and I said no to GPs many times. I didn't want to accept that it could help and that I actually needed it. This little pill I take each day has helped me so much. One thing that is hard about depression (amongst many other things) is that most treatments take months to show any positive effect. Persevere. For me it didn't really have any effects until after 4 months and now I feel fantastic. If you are on an anti-depressant and you want to give it up, talk to your GP before you do this. Many anti-depressants have unpleasant withdrawal symptoms which you can learn about in the pamphlet that comes with your medication. Of equal importance is that once you start to feel better, don't stop. Most GPs recommend trying an anti-depressant for 6 months before reviewing continuation. You need to be able to sustain that positive mood for some time before you think about stopping your treatment. It can be frightening to open up to a medical professional and try drugs and talking therapies that you don't know about, but being brave and having a go will absolutely help. I also believe that for medical students and doctors, we need to develop healthy mechanisms of keeping stress down and mood up. This can be done by trying out what works for you and then sticking at it to keep yourself happy. 

5) Knowing when to take a break
I have taken days off uni and placement due to my depression and I am not sorry about it. When I fill in an absence form, that is what I put down as the reason for absence. My university kindly accepts that and reminds me of the medical student support services each time I do so. They're fab. Have a read of Hannah's post about taking a mental health sick day, it's wonderfully written. Many people with depression have symptoms including insomnia and joint pain, and if you've had a sleepless night you aren't going to do well in a working capacity.

6) Speaking to other sufferers of depression
The blogging community has helped me so much with my depression. I have met many people studying science subjects who have depression and can completely relate. They are brilliant and remind me I'm not a weirdo and I'm not alone. 

7) Be selfish
Say no when you don't want to do things. Take time to do the things you love. If someone is nagging you to do something you know that you have no interest in or will hurt you, don't do it. This is your life. 

8) Have a hobby 
What ground me down last year was feeling trapped in my studies; I felt too anxious to join any societies at all. You need time for rest and relaxation. If your mate wants to go for a coffee, go for it. If there's a film in the cinema you want to see, go see it. Now I have an electric piano, I blog as much as I can and I am enrolled on a French course - these are my passions and I am doing better academically because I now have an outlet. 

9) Know that you won't always feel this way
Sometimes on your worst days you will feel as if there is no escape, that this life is unbearable and it couldn't be worse. But it won't always feel that way. You will laugh again and have fantastic experiences. It does get better. You may not know when, but persevere and you will feel happy again. 

I hated exercise, but I have learnt to like it. I go to the gym maybe 2-3 times a week. Yes, I would like to go more often but I'm a newbie to this and I am really enjoying it. I go with my medic mates and it definitely makes the experience more enjoyable. I also go at times I know it will be quiet, usually 8-9am because then I feel less self-conscious and have more fun. You don't have to run marathons or play in the first  team of a uni sports club, but just a little bit of exercise every now and then will honestly help, and also help long-term. 


1 comment

  1. Such a good post, Kate! I definitely can relate to all of these.

    Hannah xxx


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