Dr. Deborah Serani, a licensed psychologist, professor and award-winning author made a stark confession to her audience at New York’s Adelphi University.
“Dad’s gun is in the left hand side of his dresser drawer. When everybody leaves, go in and get it,” she said, narrating a dark and painful moment she had as a young woman. “I’m very lucky my suicide attempt was interrupted,” Dr. Serani tells those assembled at the TEDx Talk.
After relating her difficult experiences as child, Dr. Serani explained how that event drove her to seek help and fueled the discovery that she suffered from a mood disorder called unipolar depression. “Psychotherapy not only saved my life, it changed my life,” Serani says. “So much so, I decided to become a psychologist myself.”
This puts Dr. Serani in the unique position of understanding mental illness from two different perspectives, as both a patient and as doctor.
What Areas of Mental Illness Deserve More Attention?
Though she acknowledges it’s not necessary for psychologists to suffer from mental illness in order to understand or treat these neurochemical disorders, she emphasizes six areas that, in her experience, deserve greater attention via the doctor/patient lens:
1. Despite advances in treatment that have led to a greater understanding, Serani notes the general public is still very wary of anyone suffering from a mental disorder. The stigma toward these conditions is also in the medical profession itself, referring to the concept of diagnostic overshadowing. “This occurs when healthcare professionals discriminate against people, children and adults, who have mental illness,” says Dr. Serani.
2. Genetic metabolism testing, which shows what medications will work best for a given individual, can shave years off patients and their doctors searching for the right treatment approach. In turn, patients are able to live healthier lives for longer periods. “Personalized medicine is a field that offers a lot of hope, but many professionals are unaware that it’s out there,” she says and that this is known as genetic illiteracy.
3. Research has shown as many as 80 percent of those suffering from various mental illnesses never fully recover. A number of factors lead to this, but consistent adherence to a treatment plan is crucial. Patients must commit to their treatment plans in order to achieve and sustain remission of their symptoms.
4. “Watch your words,” says Dr. Serani. Telling those suffering from mental illness to “stay strong” or “buck up” or “try harder” will only heighten the pain a person is suffering. Language like this stems from the mistaken belief that mental illness is somehow less of a real disease because it is not outwardly visible.
5. An aspect of sustained health is the patient respecting their triggers and expecting the same from those around them. “As a patient, I’m hopeful that you can understand how invested I need to be in my self-care,” say Dr. Serani. This means turning down invitations for a drink because it will negatively affect mood or that staying out late will disrupt sleep architecture and lead an increase of symptoms.
6. Lastly, Dr. Serani points out that patients need others to understand the likelihood of relapse. “Seventy percent of individuals who have a depressive episode will have another one,” says Serani, “and that statistic doubles to almost 90 percent if you’ve had two episodes.” It’s vital then to have an emergency plan with the name and phone numbers of the patient’s doctor, pharmacy and hospital.
Having an in-depth understanding of both sides of the mental health dilemma had led Dr. Serani to pen three books, write a regular columnist for Psychology Today, run her own practice, and teach at Adelphi University.
“As a doctor, I’m here to tell you there is hope,” Dr. Serani says in closing, “and as a patient, I’m here to tell you there is healing.
You can find more information about Dr. Deborah Serani on her website at www.DrDeborahSerani.com.
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