Tag Archives: expert

What makes someone an mental health ‘expert’?

I cannot say what has prompted me to write this blog, suffice to say I was recently told an article I’d written, that I had researched extensively and was backed with my personal experience of mental illness, was inadequate. I was asked to get backing from an ‘expert’ (which I tried and failed to do) and this got me thinking!
I have spent years trying to cope with my mental illness on my own, years in and out of hospital, and further years on the road to recovery using various therapies and medications. On my journey I’ve met tens of people, each with their own struggles.
I’ve tried numerous medications so I know what it’s like to decide whether to put up with symptoms or side effects. I know what it’s like to put every ounce of energy into trying to recover, to keep failing and keep getting it wrong so I know what it’s like to feel completely hopeless.
I have spent hours trying to distract myself from intrusive thoughts, sometimes succeeding, often not. I know what it’s like to be completely overwhelmed by my feelings, not have a clue what to do but have to figure it out anyway!
I know what it’s like to feel as though no one understand, as though you’re completely alone and no one will ever be able to help because they just don’t know what it’s like.
When I’m ill, of course, I need support from professionals but I’ve lost count of the number of times they’ve asked me what I need, what will help! They know theoretically which medication would help or what services are available but they always consider me the expert.
As an aside – I have a medical degree, I learnt a lot as a student and when I practiced as a doctor – this knowledge is helpful but in my opinion, no amount of text book learning is equal to experiencing illness itself.
How often, when unwell, taking advice from a doctor, nurse or other professional, do you wander if they have a clue what it’s like to live with your condition? I’ve often thought this about physiotherapists…do they know what it’s like to have extreme pain and push through and do all your prescribed exercises anyway? If they did I think they’d be a bit more congratulatory, maybe throw you a party at every appointment!! I digress!
Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for medical professionals, they do a difficult job and have incredible knowledge and skills but there’s something about experiencing illness yourself that gives you that bit extra to help your patients.
In my professional life I’ve supported people in the grips of severe mental illness, hallucinating, talking about delusions, self harming or wanting to take their life – every time walking alongside these people has taught me so much.
Research is interesting but personal experience brings it to life.
What’s more, I have a passion for spreading the word about mental illness, for raising awareness and ensuring more people understand what it’s like to live with mental illness.
The ‘experts’ I was asked to get backing from do not have this passion… so I ask for their input and I didn’t hear back.
I never have, and never would, pretend I know everything, which is why I think my combination of degree and personal experience is helpful. As a doctor, the most important skill is to know when you don’t know – I carry this through my work today.
I have experience of a mood disorder and an eating disorder, if I want to find out about schizophrenia or a personality disorder, for example, who do I talk to? Someone sitting in an office who’s read a lot of books?! No! I talk to the people I know who have personal experience – they are the experts in my humble opinion – tell me what you think in the comments below.