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The tables are turned - Talk to me

Date: 21 May 2014

By Tan Shiow Chin

THERE is a saying that doctors make the worst patients.

And it is certainly likely that many, if not most, doctors would self-diagnose and treat themselves for common conditions like the flu, fever, or food poisoning.

Of course, this becomes more difficult if the doctor has a more serious or complex disease, particularly one outside his or her area of specialisation.

Mental illness in particular, requires an outside perspective, as it is very difficult to objectively and accurately evaluate one’s own mental status.

This is especially so due to the stigma that is still attached to mental illnesses in our society, even within the healthcare community, which might translate into doctors ignoring their own mental symptoms.

So, how do doctors choose which psychiatrist to see when they know they need help with a mental condition?

Dr Penny Ang* shares that she consulted her former supervisor recently.

The medical officer previously spent a few years working in the psychiatric department of a government hospital and developed symptoms of bipolar mood disorder during that period.

“I had typical depressive symptoms: Poor sleep, poor appetite, inability to focus, bad mood, crying at work, thoughts of dying – the works,” she says.

“My colleagues, most of whom were doing their masters in psychiatry, told me to get help.”

So, she went to see her then-boss, with whom she had a good rapport, was diagnosed and put on medication.

“Doctors usually go straight to the bosses. It’s the same across the board in all medical fields,” she says.

However, even as a psychiatric medical officer, Dr Ang has been consulted by her fellow doctors for their mental problems.

She says that sometimes all they want is a second opinion, or to get medication, especially for those also in the psychiatric field.

“It also depends on the patient. Some are, frankly, know-it-alls, and they just want your confirmation, while others just want you to tell them everything that you know,” she says. She emphasises, however, that it is rare for doctors to consult a medical officer over their problems unless they are close or trusted friends.

“Why would you want to see a medical officer when you can see a specialist?” she asks rhetorically.

* Name changed to protect her privacy

This article was first published in on 4 August 2012.

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