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Physician, Heal Thyself: Navigating the murky waters of self-help

Hello GHC-ers! I want to revisit a topic that is thrust into our hands so very often – mental health. Specifically, stress and depression. I flicked my radio dial to a news bulletin just before midday today and learnt a new number: today, Lifeline published a study indicating 9/10 people in WA report intolerably high stress levels in their day-to-day life.(1) Nine-out-of-ten. Nine out of ten. Nearly a perfect score.

Fact two came a few months ago and sat idling in the back of my mind: research conducted by one of our brilliant young doctors indicated levels of anxiety and depression, subclinical and overt, are exceptionally high amongst medical students and junior doctors. (Unfortunately I’m unable to reference his research directly as it’s not yet published, but this information is sourced from his talk at the annual congress of the RANZCP in Brisbane this year.)

And despite how these statistics should seem astonishing, I remain in honesty unsurprised. I’m not going to delve into why this statistic isn’t unexpected – I think, knowing the global awareness of GHC attendees, that you are aware of reasons that mental health is a growing area of concern. Instead I want to focus on why I’m thankful that these numbers are coming into the public light. What I want to talk about is how anyone can hope to change this number, so as to prevent our own colleagues and friends from letting this stress affect them to the point of snowballing into depression, anxiety disorders, self-harm and suicide.

Step one is that we remind everyone we can that mental health is a big deal – and publishing sky high numbers like in the two studies I mentioned above is going to get people’s attention. Step two is figuring out what we can do to bring those numbers down.

Step three is to understand that even though the underservice of mental health in our community may seem beyond the reach of your influence, you – yes, you – are 100% able to create change. I promise you that GHC is going to show you that you can. Before GHC, though, this article about Sir Nicholas Winton is going to remind you that you definitely, absolutely can.

 

Referring back to Step two: I am certain many of your are already aware of the initial steps put forward to reducing depression and anxiety in our community. Early detection, support networks and attention from health professionals are paramount. Another strategy, however, could be worth pursuing: internet self-help. Before you close this page in rage and despair, hear me out. I’m not talking about the radical self-love movement peddled by wellbeing gurus and catering uniquely to 20-40y/o middle- to upper-class women who think juice cleanses will dissolve your generalised anxiety disorder.(4) I’m talking about actual, proven self-help accessible in a web format.(5) The potential positivity here starts with being able to provide cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for those who need it, on a wide scale in a potentially more economically favourable manner – this could be a viable solution to the overflowing patient lists of overstretched CBT providers.(5) The difficulty is in the inherent blanket-policy nature of the CBT that could be delivered. The only queries I raise here are to do with the need for therapy to be dynamic and tailored to the individual – online modules are potentially limited in this respect. But there is potential for the progression into a web-based therapy which moulds to the user, and delivers quality preliminary therapy – which is exciting given online support could be a great platform for providing convenient, stigma-free help to people needing it. I certainly like the idea of it helping people with mild to moderate depression, and helping people handle stress levels – perhaps its use would peak in preventative strategies for people handling high levels of stress, before they have progressed to anxiety and depressive disorders?

 

Food for thought. In the meantime: you know what to do. Bring up the difficult topics with your meddy and non-meddy friends; ask questions about how they’re coping and whether they’re taking care of themselves. Let your inner Sir Nicholas Winton out, and create a change, one person at a time.

 

Much love and take care,

Emily x

 

Article – Emily Earnshaw

Photo – Monica Leung

 

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References:

  1. Lifeline Australia. National stress poll – topline report May 2015. Orima Research: Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney; 2015. Available from: lifeline.org.au.
  2. http://health.thewest.com.au/news/1973/depression-hits-was-young-medics
  3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/janice-kamenirreznik/jewish-world-watch-rememb_b_7755998.html
  4. https://millennialposse.wordpress.com/2015/07/08/positive-attitude-bullshit-on-the-dangers-of-radical-self-love-2/
  5. Richards D, Richardson T. Computer-based psychological treatments for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clin Psych Review [Internet]. 2012[cited 2015 Jul 17];32:329-42. Available from: ScienceDirect.