The challenges of mental health: an inconvenient reality

Participation of Vytenis Andriukaitis, Member of the EC, at the Ministerial Conference on the follow up to the fipronil incident
Date: 26/09/2017. Location: Brussels – EC/Berlaymont. © European Union , 2017 Source: EC – Audiovisual Service. Photo: Dario Pignatelli

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Mr James Carlos Vella, a second year medical student from Malta. James Carlos is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA). However, the opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Despite the intellectual and anthropological advances that characterise everyday life in the modern society of the Western world, it seems that yet, not enough has been done to remove the issue of mental health from its top place in society’s list of taboos.

Unfortunately, the autonomous acknowledgement that oneself or else a fellow friend or family member may have a mental health problem is still put aside and neglected for the convenience that we perceive that by accepting the truth, we would just be adding another big problem to our lives. However, we would just be sitting on a ticking bomb, instead of dealing with the crux of the matter.

This is even more so in the medical environment – doctors think twice before speaking up their intuition that they might have a mental health disorder, because most likely they will be looked down on and considered as something that should be dealt with carefully, as if it involves a contagious diagnosis.

However, the reality remains that doctors work in a profession where they have to deal with the most general cause of mental health damage – toxic stress. Medical health professionals are constantly exposed to sleep-depriving long working shifts – while being on-call – and often without a break. They must endure demeaning bullying from seniors – especially as junior doctors – while having to be competitive to be able to advance in their career. It is no wonder that doctors fear of becoming patients themselves when they ask for help – they would give the impression that they are weak and not capable of keeping up with their fellow colleagues in delivering professionalism at its very best.

Many tend to obliviate the fact that doctors do have a personal life outside the clinic with all its bright and bad sides, as every professional remains a vulnerable human being. To have a diligent doctor-patient relationship, doctors have to leave all their personal luggage behind them as soon as they put on their white coat and stethoscope and enter the clinic. In reality, this is easier said than done especially if there is a lack of a strong, reliable person support system.

Doctors should remain loyal to the oath that they took when they became health professionals – that they should strive to work for the greater good of present and future generations – therefore seeing persons as individuals and not as a bunch of people, and this should apply as well to fellow medics. The same empathic and trustworthy behaviour that doctors should show to patients, should be extended to colleagues when mental health issues are involved in order to produce a finer-working medical system that provides a better service to the public.

The mental health concerns of a fellow doctor should not be waved away, but instead, on-going support to medical health professionals should be provided to help doctors deal with the stressful workload that their profession entails.

About the author

James Carlos Vella is a 2nd year Maltese medical student (an MMSA member), and has a special interest in molecular biology and cancer genetics. In the future, he would like to specialise and carry out research in his fields of interest. James Carlos insists that one should keep a healthy mental lifestyle, done by having a proper work-life balance for more productivity. In fact, he volunteers in the NGO ‘Karl Vella Foundation’ where he helps children whose family members have cancer, practises sports such as zip-lining and abseiling, and shows a strong passion for entomology and all aquatic ecology.

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