Monday, December 28, 2015

Psychiatry and my mother's story, A story of depression and the psychiatric nurse

Excerpt a personal story from keynote, "Living Stories of Hope and change:  The Challenge to Change" Cheryl L. McLean, Alberta Psychiatric Association 2014 Scientific Conference

Many psychiatrists (the healers of the soul)  enter psychiatry as a profession  because they are interested in helping those who suffer and are in need of healing, opening the door to human understanding.  You want to know why people behave the way they do, you want to use your considerable education and skills to help people be well, you want to restore balance and quality of life to those you care for.  Among you today will be those who  commonly deal with issues around depression, anxiety, paranoia, and /sex abuse...

 Many psychiatrists  have themselves seen what it is to live on the other side of the door, they may know, through lived experience, through their fathers, their mothers, their aunts and uncles what abuse and alcoholism is, some have suffered devastating personal losses of those closest to them, many have grown up with family members who have lived with depression and other mental illnesses.   

Research shows that doctors, in general, are at greater risk for depression, mood disorders and suicide and psychiatrists, according to The American Psychiatric Association, commit suicide at rates at about twice that of other physicians.  Dr. Michael Myers, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and a leader in physician health and wellbeing  also stresses deeply depressed physicians still feel the effects of the stigma of mental illness. 

I have some personal experience with this through my mother now 87, who had been the head nurse at a geriatric ward at our city psychiatric hospital (previous know as an asylum for the insane)  in Southwestern Ontario for over thirty years.  She started her career in geriatric care  as a nurse in 1952  and worked her way through the 50's, the  60's and 70's, through the days of  electroconvulsive therapies , lobotomy surgeries, insulin shock therapy,  strait jackets, restraints.  One of my mother's many assignments was to  dispense medications like tranquilizers and phenobarbital to 450 older patients twice daily on five wards.  Many of her geriatric patients lived out their later lives and died in hospital.  My mother was proud of her nursing job.  When I was a girl of  fourteen and thinking about nursing as a career myself she drove me to her hospital, turned off the main street, past the grassy fields  and up the long, shaded tree lined road and down the curved driveway leading to that big old building.  I met her patients.   They told me their stories.  Some were very interesting.   One nice lady said she was friends with a "gangster" named "Duninger"  who, she said,  went everywhere with her. 

Mom made sure she kept the staff and the ward together.  But there were serious troubles at home.  Mom worked late most nights and always took her work home with her, sitting at the kitchen table, draining the coffee pot, coughing and chain smoking Export A's while trying to get her time slips done, couldn't sleep at night, was  worried about how to cover for staff  when attendants said they were sick or took time off.  Then one day  she just stopped talking, wouldn't eat, went to her bedroom, turned off the lights and shut the door.  But somehow even through these  darkest of times she managed to get up in the morning at 5:00 a.m., get the car started in the dead of winter and  made it in ,on time,  to work. My mother, an attractive woman,  always concerned about her appearance, her hair, her makeup, was  meticulously, even obsessively neat.  We knew there was something terribly wrong when she started falling asleep at night in her uniform...  One sleepless night while fighting yet another migraine headache she cried out, "What's the use?"   Yes, she had her nursing friends,  but most of the time she tried to make it through these dark times alone.  Mom would never have admitted she had a mental health issue nor that was depressed.  You just didn't talk about those things.  She was a psychiatric nurse, and proud of it., she cared for patients with mental illness, consoled the families when their loved ones passed away, her staff came to her when they were depressed,  to solve their problems.  She was praised by the psychiatrists  for her meticulous attention to detail and  tireless  dedication to her job and her patients.   My mother wasn't just a nurse.  Nursing was my mother.  As I reflect now years later  I see that  my mother suffered with depression, the  classic DSM  indicators of major depressive disorder but she wasn't sick...she was fine.  It was her job to keep everything under control.