2014 Stanford Medicine X: Depression & Chronic Illness

On Day Two at the 2014 Stanford Medicine X Conference, the best panel ever done in the history of meeting happened. And, no one saw it. Why? Well, it was the very last session at the end of the day, and many people were getting ready for the cocktail reception outside and enjoying a beautiful night in Palo Alto. I don't blame them. However, through the wisdom of the conference organizers, this panel was placed on the main stage, which meant that it would be broadcast and recorded for all of you. That video is above.

"This is going to be a conversation that is going to be a little bit of a challenging one for each of us individually, and possible for the for community at large, because of the heavy issues that we're dealing with," moderator Sarah Kucharski said opening up the panel entitled "Depression in Chronic Illness and Coping Through Online Communities." The panelists were Hugo Campos, Ann Becker-Schutte, Gonzalo Bacigalupe, Erin Moore, and Scott Strange.

It was clear to me that some of these panelists have not discussed this topic in public before, and it was clear that they did not fully realize this until they began speaking on stage. This is why, I believe, that this was the best panel ever done at MedX.

This panel could not have been done in year one or year two of this conference. This is a sign of the maturing of the meeting and the maturing of the rich conversation. This conference and these brave people on stage are not afraid to push the limits of discomfort and awkwardness (in a good way) to talk about the topics that need talked about. Well done!

What follows below are my observations from this 45 minute session. I encourage you to watch the entire session, because I know that you will be able to pull more out of this fascinating conversation.

  • Self-care is so important and needs to be talked about more
    • It doesn't matter if you're a patient, a caregiver, a physician/provider, or a mix of all three. Care of oneself is something that is desperately needed to make sure that you can care for others. I'm a Family Physician, and I know that this is something that is not talked about publicly in medical education as far as taking care of yourself as a medical student, resident, and attending physician. I know that I need to take care of my own health so that I can take better care of my patients, but sometimes it feels selfish to do the things that I need to do for me. I know I'm not the only one who thinks like this.
  • The thinking that there is always someone worse than me
    • Denial of your own feelings and your own care is common, especially if you tell yourself that "well that person or that patient is worse" so I'm ok. The fact is that you may not be ok, and you need the courage to face those feelings
  • When facing these anxiety and depression feelings, initially it is common to go outside of your familiar community and seek out an outsider
    • It was fascinating hearing that even though you have a friend or friends in an online community, their initial thoughts was to not ask their own illness/disease communities first, because they thought it may be seen as weakness
    • "We shouldn't be afraid to say I am suffering today. This hurts today. I don't know which way to go today. That's not weakness. That's honesty," Ann Becker-Schutte said later at about 36 minutes in the vid.
  • "Physicians need to accept that the mental health stuff is part of what's going on, but not a reason to stop looking for answers," Ann Becker-Schutte says about 26 minutes into the video above
    • I agree that this is happening out there, and I don't make excuses for it. Earlier in the day, there was a session that mentioned the frustrations of the 10 minute office visit. As a Family Physician, I feel those time restraints and to focus the interview on one problem. But, it is true that just because someone has a mental health diagnosis, that is not a reason to stop looking for answers for other symptoms. This comment really resonated with me.
  • How do you find the right mental health professional?
    • One of the panelists found a counselor/therapist on twitter
    • Another panelists said that "I didn't know how to tell them what was wrong with me when I was asked. Very uncomfortable"
    • The tip was to call 2-3 people and interview them over the phone before you take that big step to go to their office
    • This part of the discussion really made me think, because I was thinking about an earlier session in the day called "How To Find The Right Doctor" in which they were looking at numbers, and I hear all the time about physician rating sites. Makes me think that recommendations to mental health professionals are probably a lot different than recommendations to non-mental health professionals
  • The panel beautifully got to the point about talking about the online community. Yes, there are strengths of your own online community. Being a part of the community, finding the strength to talk about your feelings to your empowerment community can be tough, but needs to be done. For the community, they have to be ready to hear from individuals and offer support and not give them the impression of weakness. Meeting halfway and supporting each other is the strength of the community.

Sorry for the rambling, but this panel really made me think. And, on this last day of 2014 #MedX, there will be another panel on mental health/wellness issues that I will be looking forward to.

This will be my last post that I write while I'm out here at Stanford, as I will be going home tonight, and back to work tomorrow. I will undoubtedly have more to say as I further process this #MedX experience. Thanks to Dr. Larry Chu, the meeting organizers, the meeting sponsors, and all of the participants (both in person and online) for making this a fabulous experience for me, and what I really needed both professionally and personally as I continue sharing my story....