Ashley Perkins, PharmD
CPNP Member and Mental Health Advocate
Co-Founder of We Matter Too, Inc.
I looked at sixty first-year pharmacy students and said: “I wish I’d listened and taken better care of myself while in pharmacy school.” Goodness knows, it’s the truth.
“Maybe I’d be better off today. Maybe everything would’ve gone smoother. You all see me as a pharmacist. I’m your professor. Some know I’m a wife and mother. However, there’s something else most of you don’t know about me.”
My students all stared at me intently, wondering what I was about to tell them. “What you don’t see about me, is something I have to share with you. It’s not something you can observe easily. I’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, agoraphobia, depression after giving birth, obsessive compulsive disorder, and complex-post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve attempted suicide twice but survived. One attempt put me in the hospital for five days. I overcome my diseases every day, but they’ll never define me. Despite my diseases, I’m a successful pharmacist who helps my patients to the best of my abilities. My diseases have no bearing on my career and don’t affect my abilities to perform my duties.”
Shock. Disbelief. Confusion. Just a few reactions I read on the faces of my students. Lightbulbs were going off in their minds as I just shattered every single stereotype they’ve had about people with mental diseases. This is why I started sharing my story with my patients, six or seven years ago. I saw the impact my story had on them. It helped them overcome the shame, guilt, fear, and stigma surrounding mental disease. It helped them go to the doctor to receive the treatment that they needed to begin overcoming their diseases. This is why I share my story openly.
People living with mental disease often experience public- and self-stigma.1 Yet, mental disease is not uncommon. One in five adults will experience some form of mental disease over their lifetime.2 What’s more alarming is that suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people between 10 and 34 years of age.2 We aren’t immune as health care professionals either. We may actually be at increased risk of developing a mental disease, given the demands of our jobs.
Don’t be afraid to share your story. No one should feel obligated to hide a part of their personality. We can be a positive force in our patients’ lives by being candid about our own experiences. Sharing our lived experiences through a first-person narrative may help to reduce public- and self-stigma. ‘Me too’ is a powerful statement. It demonstrates acceptance and compassion toward our patients.
Brené Brown once said, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”3 It’s taking the time to be vulnerable and letting our patients know that they aren’t alone on this journey. We understand because we too are on the journey.