I Promise Myself: The Mental Health Contract

By Grace Scolyer

It’s been 16 months since I sat, tachycardic and sweating in a superclinic GP’s office, asking for a K-10 test and mental health treatment plan. 16 months since I was met with a suppressed laugh, obligatory printout, and subsequent arrangement of an urgent follow-up with another GP with more mental health experience. My exterior did not seem to fit up with my K-10 score; the difference between by 2pm brain and my 2am brain something quite concerning. High functioning, clinically depressed.

And yet, 7 months before this meeting, I sat in South 1 lecture theatre, listening to warnings about the years to come:

“Medical students are 3 times more likely than the general population to be experiencing very high levels of psychological distress.”

“43% of medical students are likely to be struggling with a minor psychiatric illness.”

“Approximately one in five medical students had thoughts of suicide in the past 12 months.”

So what? I for one, after being bombarded with these statistics in that lecture theatre in first year, am no longer shocked by these facts. Frustrated perhaps, but certainly not shocked. It does not help me to know how common my experience is. These numbers do not make me feel less alone. I fit into the unfortunate minority of all these groups – my problems easily self-diagnosed, thanks to these statistics – but without an obvious solution.

It’s taken a year of significant trial and significant error to get me somewhat afloat, and I hope to start a more helpful conversation about medical student mental health than what I am familiar with.

I think what we need is a framework – simple advice that is too obvious and too effective not to take on board – to get us started on the right track. We need to make this the year where we stop targeting statistics, and instead, start taking care of ourselves and our peers, one day at a time, one brain at a time.

The following promises might not work for everyone – but they are simple enough to trial and see what works for you. They may seem obvious, but I for one have taken until now, the start of my third year, to actually start implementing them in my life.

I promise myself:

  1. I will get a regular GP as soon as possible
  2. I will make time for something that I genuinely enjoy for at least half an hour every week
  3. If I am struggling, or feel a little off, I will tell someone I trust
  4. If I notice someone struggling, I will encourage them to seek appropriate support and make sure they are supported by myself or someone they trust
  5. I will remember that I have no responsibility to be superhuman, and am stronger, not weaker, when protecting my wellbeing

It’s time to step away from the statistics, redefine our normal, and have the difficult conversation — taking the time to care for ourselves, one step at a time.

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