A lot of people with more credentials and knowledge than I possess have written about this topic; people who struggle more fiercely than I have ever had to struggle, just to get through another day, have written about living with mental illness. I am not going to write about why mental health is an important topic – health officials, psychiatrists, psychologists, and many others can give more information on its impacts on health and well-being. I am also not going to write about suffering from a mental illness, although like what seems to be many of my colleagues, I have suffered from depression. Today I am writing to the many veterinary students and veterinarians who suffer from mental illness.
Today is a beautiful day, the kind of day that can almost make me forget the depression that threatened to swallow me only a few days ago; but not everyone gets many of these days. So to all of my colleagues, friends, and strangers who I have never met, who may be going through vet school or know a veterinary student, or who found this blog through other means, know this – you are not alone. Mental illness isolates you, persistent societal stigmas alienate you, and a generalized lack of education on where and when to find help ties your hands behind your back, but you are not alone. I can’t know how you feel, because every person is different and perceives the world differently, but I can offer you a hand on those days when I am a little farther up the muddy, slippery hill of depression. But some days, I’ll need help up, too. None of us can heal or fix ourselves without assistance, even if that means not doing anything other than being present in the midst of pain. Knowing that there are people who do care, who will be there when the smoke clears, can help ground you when it feels like you are drowning and nothing but emptiness surrounds you. Find those people – they are usually hiding in plain sight, as your friends or colleagues.
I also wanted everyone who has a mental illness to know that you astound me. The strength exhibited by vet students or professionals who struggle with self-harm or suicidal ideation, and yet still get up in the morning, go to class or work, and push through in one of the most compassion-demanding jobs you can choose, makes me proud to call you colleagues. I hope each of you has people who aren’t afraid to wade into the storm and help you weather it.