Wellbeing Blog

Catherine O’Brien: A Reflection

Have you ever rolled your eyes when the topic of ‘mental health’ gets brought up? I know I have. I would immediately picture a delicate millennial complaining about the basic realities of adulting or whining about a breakup, whilst posting cringy inspirational quotes on social media. 

Humbled by my own experiences, I now know that this is not an accurate picture of mental illness. And you’re not exempt. You can’t protect yourself by being too smart, too informed, too popular, or too well-rounded to suffer from mental illness.

I would drink a bottle of vodka (the cheap kind) on a weekend just so I could blackout and not have to deal with my own thoughts.

I can’t condone all the things I did or said at my lowest, but 12 months on from what felt like a ‘woe-is-me’ spiral I am incredibly grateful and lucky for the lessons my depression has taught me. I’d been treated for depression for several years prior to this, with enough success to keep me afloat. I would love to be able to praise the healthcare system and medical school for their involvement and assistance, but that wasn’t really my experience. 

My grades remained above average, so the fact that I hadn’t slept in days and spent more time contemplating suicide than study meant nothing. I was told by well-meaning individuals that they saw no evidence of impaired function or depression severe enough to receive treatment through the public sector. Instead it was suggested that my family could afford private treatment. When asking for recommendations of private clinicians or practices, I was told to “just google it”.

Initially these interactions filled me with resentment and despair. After taking time out from medical school to confront my depression and rebuild myself, I can now channel this into a desire to improve what our healthcare system has to offer. Additionally, I hope our medical school will continue to move away from the ‘sink or swim’ approach to student support, as the importance of student mental health which we are told about is yet to be reflected in practice.

It’s not all doom and gloom though – I honestly wouldn’t erase my experience if I could. I no longer take people or moments for granted, I understand my own cognitions and have a new layer of compassion for others facing similar challenges; – all with a renewed passion for medicine.

Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to appreciate what you have at the top.

Author: Catherine O’Brien


This is an entry for our NZMSA Wellbeing Blog. This blog is entirely student driven and your peers have kindly lifted the lid on their experiences in relation to wellbeing.