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I Am a Mental Health Professional (and Patient)

Working in an inpatient psychiatric unit can be difficult. Working in an inpatient psychiatric unit while having mental illness — also difficult.

I doubted myself and my capability starting off my career in the mental health field. I always knew my passion and drive would not be an issue — but what would it be like if I was triggered? How would I respond? How could I look into a patient’s eyes and convince them life was worth living… when I just had this argument with myself in my head an hour before I clocked in?

With hesitation, I began what has been the most therapeutic coping skill for me. Not only has being a mental health professional educated me, but helps me everyday to face my own demons and learn new ways to win the fight against them.

It has been such a privilege to work with others who struggle with mental illness and to learn their stories and the obstacles they have faced and are overcoming in order to better their lives. I feel honored to play such an important, trusting role for everyone who walks in the door — as they are allowing me to be a big part of a major change at the hardest moment in their life.

Many patients that come in are less than 24 hours post-suicide attempt. Many of them have been sexually assaulted, abused and have experienced trauma. Many of the things I hear are terrible and unfortunately, have been things I have also experienced.

There are days when I feel empowered to make sure every patient knows they’re doing the best they can. Being a mental health patient has allowed me to have such a deeper insight and empathetic demeanor, and lets me build amazing rapport with my peers.

However, there are also days where I am overwhelmed. Hearing a report about a suicide attempt or a history of sexual assault can make me flinch. Sometimes when a patient is sobbing and pleading for me to “let them die,” my eyes shed tears as I sit and feel that emotion with them. There are days when I can’t bear the thought of listening to anyone, because I can’t silence my own mind. My heart stops when I read that I am running two hours of group therapy with 50 patients… when I haven’t been able to get out of bed all week. Sometimes staying awake is a difficult task, because my PTSD kept me up all night terrorizing me.

But more importantly, there are days where I make a difference. There are days I can be compassionate to someone who hasn’t felt love in years. I can understand what is running through their mind because I have dealt with it, too. I am patient for knowing the struggles of suicidal thoughts and depression, and can sit to feel the emotions with them. There are times where I love to listen, because it can silence my own thoughts and give me a new perspective. When I see I am running group therapy for two hours, it motivates me to not allow my illness to win. Some days, although I am tired from being up all night, I get the honor to watch someone grow, overcome an anxiety attack, or begin their road to recovery.

While every day at work I am the mental health professional, those same days I might be the patient, too. In being able to comfort others and provide therapeutic tools to better someone’s mental state, I practice them at the same time. Facing my own mental health can be exhausting some days (after helping everyone with their own), but becoming a mental health professional has been the best thing that has ever happened to me.

Some days I’m the mess. Some days I’m the broom. On my hardest days, I have to be both.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialsiewicz