The musings of a final year medical student

Thursday, 20 October 2016


My psychiatry placement has left me feeling emotionally drained. I wasn't sure whether to share this on the blog, as it isn't exactly cheery, but this was the first time I got proper emotional about a patient.

The first history I ever took off a patient (back in second year) was from someone who had attempted to commit suicide. So, going into my psychiatric placement a year later, I wasn't stumbling into it with total naïvety. Having said that, I found myself holding back tears throughout most of this placement. I was meeting patients who had suffered years of abuse of all forms, which had contributed to their conditions. One patient had a son who hung himself at age ten. Another patient self-harmed in ways that I found incredibly disturbing, which I won't share. Others who had such low self esteem that they decided not to press charges on their abusive ex-partners.

What was so upsetting about these patients' lives was knowing that the things they really needed we couldn't give. Almost every patient's problem was affected by money/housing/family/friendships/work. And of course, those things cannot be prescribed. In addition, many people developed psychiatric problems after caring for a loved one with a psychiatric problem. One patient had a fragmented relationship with her violent alcoholic son, which lead to her attempting suicide.

Now I feel sort of numb. I feel angry that our government can't support these people better. I feel depressed knowing we couldn't really help them. Doctors are seen as healers, but some things like this are beyond our realm entirely. 

I think it's hard to get the right balance between empathising with your patient and not letting it affect you personally. I've asked doctors how they handle this but received vague answers. I'm sure I will be better at balancing those tasks  with time, but I'm not really sure how. 

1 comment

  1. The thing that has always helped me the most is that people are so much stronger than we give them credit for, and can get through much worse than we ever expect. It might not be perfect (and in these cases it's nowhere near) but they manage xx


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