Since 1949, May has been designated as Mental Health Awareness month—a time to destigmatize behavioral health conditions and bring attention to the necessary support of millions in the United States who are affected by mental illness. Psychiatrists, professionals who focus on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, provide an invaluable resource for those struggling with mental health.
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The American Psychiatric Association states that there are about 45,000 psychiatrists in the United States—a number that cannot compete with the nearly 58 million people in the country living with a mental illness. To further complicate matters, the shortage is projected to worsen in the coming years. The College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) is training and educating the next generation of psychiatrists to step into this much-needed role.
New York Tech News spoke with several NYITCOM students pursuing a career in psychiatry to gain their perspectives on Mental Health Awareness Month.
As an aspiring psychiatrist and a Black woman, my primary goal in medicine is to help patients who are battling with mental health disorders find their voice within their diagnosis. In the Black community, historical experiences and cultural barriers have led to a mistrust of medicine and the underutilization of health services, which has led to further stigma. The limited access to mental services, the cost of care, lack of culturally competent providers, and a global pandemic have only contributed to current healthcare disparities.
As a future physician, I aim to educate patients and their loved ones on the physiological, emotional, and social aspects of mental health to ultimately help dismantle the cultural and societal misconceptions surrounding disorders and treatment. Having May as Mental Health Awareness Month dedicated to awareness and advocacy is a great way to continue normalizing conversations around mental health and the importance of holistic care.
As a future psychiatrist, Mental Health Awareness Month is a special month, but every month and day is an opportunity to work on your mental well-being. I love psychiatry because the brain is the control center of our bodies—you can’t play the game without a well-functioning controller. In order for our bodies to be healthy, our brain has to be healthy, as every thought and behavior is influenced by the mental state we are in.
My goal as a psychiatrist is to inspire and encourage others to make their mental health a priority and enable them to live a fulfilled and peaceful life. In honor of this month for anybody struggling, it is important to know that you are not alone in whatever you are going through, and there are people (like myself) that truly care [and want] to help. It takes strength to be vulnerable, and battling your brain is no task for the weak. I hope to be a physician that helps others find that strength to realize that they have the capability and support to feel better and live a life they are happy to live.
I grew up in a West African culture where the language and dialogue around mental health are extremely limited. In my native Gambian dialect, Mandinka, the only words I know as indicators of any [type of] mental illness translate to “sadness” and “madness.” Growing up, I was extremely frustrated by this, especially as I watched people suffering from mental illness delay accessing care due to fear of being outcasted and [witnessed] a gap in understanding of mental health.
I have worked in various roles as a student advocate, college coordinator, and care coordinator in economically disadvantaged communities in New York City. Within these roles, I learned about the burden of mental health in these communities, particularly in immigrant communities similar to mine. I gained insight into the impact of culture in guiding and shaping beliefs about mental health. Culture, although in many cases serves as a protective factor, can also become a barrier to seeking care.
As an aspiring psychiatrist, Mental Health Awareness Month is a reminder of the power of language and culture as a framework for raising awareness, especially in immigrant communities. It is a collaboration between providers and the community to create a safe space for dialogue, identify gaps in knowledge, and provide culturally sensitive interventions.
Mental health is an integral part of overall health and well-being. That’s why Mental Health Awareness Month is of great importance to me. The month provides us with a much-needed opportunity to improve [our] understanding of mental health issues, promote mental well-being, and, most importantly, reduce some of the stigma that we know exists around mental health.
Mental Health Awareness Month is also a time to encourage individuals—especially students—to prioritize their mental well-being by cultivating sustainable habits and providing community resources and support to aid their journey to care for one of our most overlooked body systems—the mind.
As a future psychiatrist, I plan to continue promoting mental health awareness by advocating for increased access to mental health care and engaging in education and outreach. I will also prioritize my mental health, recognizing that my self-care practices will better equip me to provide compassionate, holistic care to my patients.
Whether through walking along the Healing Path to self-reflect after a busy day, silently meditating in the first few minutes of the Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM) Lab, or spending time at Rock Steady Boxing, NYITCOM has brought mental health, especially for healthcare providers, to the forefront. Crucially, it has encouraged me to develop healthy boundaries and take breaks from my work without feeling guilty or compromising my mental health.
NYITCOM’s Class of 2023 produced multiple budding psychiatrists who will go on to complete impressive residencies after graduation, including these three students:
- Brittany Taylor (NYITCOM-Arkansas) will perform her psychiatry residency at The University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine in Tulsa, Okla.
- Alexa Gibbs (NYITCOM-Arkansas) will perform her psychiatry residency at Unity Health in Searcy, Ark.
- Julian Khaymovich (NYITCOM-Long Island) will perform his psychiatry residency at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Seasoned psychiatrist Liat Jarkin (D.O. ’87), director of the Center for Behavioral Health, offers poignant reminders to these future clinicians:
“Embrace the emerging respect for mental health. It has helped considerably ease the stigma associated with mental health illnesses and services and has allowed the conversation about mental health to be more normalized and accepted.
Remember that it is important to identify, respect, and understand all aspects of a patient’s identity in order to provide them with the greatest opportunity to form a secure and effective patient-doctor bond and, ultimately, with the best chance for recovery.
Prioritize practicing self-care. Giving your all to your patients necessitates your being mentally and physically healthy. Give yourself permission to take care of you. It’s not selfish. It’s essential.”