Shining a little light into a dark corner

Yet another knock on the door from a young migrant woman who came in to discuss about her period problems. At the end of the consult she hesitantly mentioned the difficulty she had experienced in managing her stress – for the last four- five years. I contemplated for a moment to ask her to make another appointment as the problem had been there for years and as I looked at the watch I saw that I was already running late by about two hours but instinctively decided to let her tell her story. As she spoke about her problem the guilt was palpable – concerned about taking up her doctor’s time, ashamed of feeling this way as her parents back home have huge expectations from her, embarrassed that she is unable to find happiness with her husband, worried that she’s not enjoying the work she desperately needs to hold down for financial reasons, annoyed with herself for not being able to share any of this with her friends and family; and helpless for feeling exhausted and down in this way when all seems to be okay on the surface. It took us about twenty minutes to work out that she’s actually been suffering with clinically severe depression and anxiety – unexplored and unreported by the patient for years. The conversation set me further back with mounting waiting times but I’m so grateful that the patient felt safe enough to talk about the issue and plucked enough confidence in herself to commit herself to a treatment journey with help from her health care worker. Day’s work done. But how many more people are out there who haven’t yet recognised that there’s a problem or who haven’t yet worked up the courage to talk about it and decided to take control? And who still feel that their mental health is somehow their fault, something to be embarrassed about and to be dealt with on their own? How many more feel so hesitant talking about it that they make an appointment about more validated physical health issues and only bring mental health up if they feel comfortable as the consult goes on and they sense that they will not be turned away? Let’s get talking. I’m not talking patient to doctor. I’m talking person to person. You just never know which gesture or remark will give the other person courage to speak up and share their problems. A little kindness and empathy goes a long way in shining much needed light into someone’s darkness. Keep shining it – you just never know how and where it might hit someone’s dark corner and show them the way out of it.

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