David Goldbloom on depression, healing and a week in the life of a psychiatrist
For many people, the experience of consulting a psychiatrist for help with a mental health issue can be embarrassing, or even shameful. Dr. David Goldbloom, who has been a psychiatrist for more than 30 years, has co-written a book called How Can I Help?: A Week in My Life as a Psychiatrist to help break down the stigma surrounding psychiatry and the people who go to see psychiatrists. In the book, Dr. Goldbloom takes the reader into his daily working life, introducing his patients, touring the hospital and describing the impact mental illness has on his patients, their families and the staff who treat them.
David Goldbloom joined The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers in Toronto. This interview originally aired on March 21, 2016.
HOW FEAR CAN MAKE US TRIVIALIZE MENTAL ILLNESS
Mental illness poses a bigger threat to our sense of identity than any other form of human suffering. If you break your leg, you're still you. If your mind is broken, if your brain is broken, are you still you, both in your own eyes and in the eyes of other people? One of the ways we try to de-fang or detoxify that threat of mental illness to our integrity is to either lampoon people who experience mental illness, or to trivialize and dismiss the people who treat them.
ON BEING CANDID ABOUT HIS PERSONAL STRUGGLES
My mother's illness and death was a major event in my life. I needed to show that when stuff is going on on that scale in the life of a psychiatrist, it's pretty likely that it's going to spill over. It's not so neatly walled off that it has no impact on my professional demeanour or even my demeanour with friends and family. We have lives, we have struggles, even those of us who are in the designated professional category of "healer." We have our struggles as well, so I felt I needed to be candid about that, and I also felt it was a way to pay tribute to my mother, in the same way I hope the book comes as a tribute to the patients that I've known.
ON OPTIMISM, DEPRESSION AND HEALING
I personally think optimism and hope are essential, but there are times when illnesses profoundly rob people of these things — depression being the classic example. At those times when illness erodes perception of reality and that essential quality of hope that keeps us going, it is the job of the health professionals to be that voice of hope, even when the person can't experience it themselves. I've often said to depressed patients, "I'm not asking you to believe me that you're going to get better. I'm just asking you to trust me." There's a difference between belief and trust. There's something more primordial about trust when you're struggling.
David Goldbloom's comments have been edited and condensed.