If you think about the title 'psychiatrist', does your mind conjure up a bearded old man sitting next to someone laying on a couch? Or worse still does it summon up memories of old black and white horror movies where at night the psychiatrist roams the corridors of a decrepit asylum?
Rest assured they really are not anything like these unfortunate stereotypes. In my private and professional experience they are some of the loveliest people you could meet.
The study involved to become a fully qualified psychiatrist is extensive and takes many years, then they continue to update their knowledge as scientific research uncovers new effective treatments for people experiencing mental distress in its many forms.
Our interviewee today is Nick Stubbs, who amongst other things is a psychiatric registrar and a rock climber.
1. Who are the people your organisation was created for?
I currently work at the Lithgow Community Mental Health Centre located at the hospital. My role there is as a Psychiatric Registrar, which means I am a psychiatrist in training. As part of this training, we move around every six months taking up various roles ranging from acute inpatient units, community services, child and adolescent teams and many others.
I form part of a team involving case managers, social workers and a psychiatrist. Our role is to help people with diagnosed mental illnesses; these include predominantly schizophrenia to bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety disorders.
2. Can you share an example of how individuals have benefitted from community mental health?
Psychiatry is sometimes accused of simply being a game of prescribing medications, and this to me is really unfortunate. Our approach in Lithgow is holistic, as much as it is possible to be.
My personal approach is to focus on every person I meet as a distinct individual, with thoughts, feelings and a world that is unique. As such, one singular approach is unlikely to be appropriate, and we look globally at people's lives and connections, to see what we can do to make people's existence more satisfying.
Part of this can be medication, but more often it also involves guidance on sleep, diet, activity, socialising and their very thinking itself. I often come across patients who feel that their destiny is set as a result of their "illness", who see themselves as damaged and hopeless.
A major part of my approach is to help people find their hope and really understand their issues. In this way it is my hope that they are able to find the courage to make the changes necessary to create for themselves a more functional and satisfying life.
3. What are the ways people can connect with you?
People cannot choose to come and see us, but are referred either by the ACCESS service or the hospital. If you think someone close to you, or even you yourself, are suffering a mental illness, the first step is to contact your GP, and if they too are concerned they can make a referral to the Mental Health service.
4. What strengths do you see revealed in the people you have supported?
What stands out in Lithgow above most other places I work is their honesty. It is rare for me to find myself in a conversation at work there that is full of pretentiousness, deceit or with an agenda. It takes great courage to approach yourself with honesty and humility, especially when things are going wrong.
Rather than talking around things, my experience of people in Lithgow is that they get to the point, and are not afraid to say what they mean. In psychiatry the truth is often the hardest thing to find, and to have it offered to you from the outset is a great pleasure. Not only that it also massively increases the chance that we can help make genuine, positive change.
5. Why did you choose to train in this sort of work?
I chose to enter psychiatry because I felt in "physical" medicine; we were far too limited in our approach toward people's problems. In mental health we are required and expected to see people as whole, to draw out and take in people's entire story. As such, we are more likely to be able to help in a way that is actually effective, getting into the core of problems. Rather than patching up a wound, or ignoring how someone feels because it is complicated, we delve into the complexity and try and find the solution. We are not always immediately successful, but over time, as we get to know people better and better, often we can help people make genuine change.
6. How do you look after yourself?
I try to take my own advice! When you are feeling down sometimes the hardest thing is doing what you know you should. I rely on a few simple activities to keep my world in order. At the moment these including meditation, mountain biking and rock climbing. A massive part of caring for yourself is also creating a safe space for yourself in your world, and filling it with people that care for you, but equally that you can try to care for. Being open and connecting with people is a way to build real positive energy in yourself, and allows the opportunity for them to do the same.
7. What lessons have you learnt from your work?
From my work the major lesson I learn every day is that people are wonderfully weird! Every single person I meet is unique, often in surprising and inspiring ways. The more people that I come across the more I value this variety, and that being "normal" is something that no one can or should aim to achieve.
8. What is a valuable piece of advice you would give to the readers right now?
When people speak of mental health issues they often speak about "over-thinking". My advice would be to get rid of this idea from your world. Everyone thinks in every moment: it is the only thing you can never stop doing. Instead of this, try to instead approach your thinking as being helpful or unhelpful; satisfying or unsatisfying; productive or destructive. Rather than trying to stop yourself thinking, focus on making your thinking better. Thinking is a wonderful gift, your task is to try and use it and enjoy it.
Remember you can get mental health support by talking to your gp or phoning one of the many phone support services.
- Mensline Australia 24 Hour phone advice 1300 789 987
- Beyond Blue 24 Hour advice 13 00 224 636
- 24 Hour Mental health Access line 1800 011 511
- Lifeline Australia 24 Hours 13 11 14 (Crisis support and suicide prevention)
While you're with us, you can now receive updates straight to your inbox from the Lithgow Mercury. To make sure you're up to date with all the news, sign up here.