Seeking to shed light on mental health and reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illness, nearly 120 doctors, patients, families and supporters gathered on June 8, 2015 for the fourth annual Visiting Day hosted by the Massachusetts General Hospital Leadership Council for Psychiatry.
Psychiatrist-in-chief Jerrold Rosenbaum, MD, described the importance of doctors building a trust with patients before treatment can be truly effective. “The patients want to know the doctor cares before they care what the doctor knows,” he said. “We use all the craft, art, tools and treatments available to us to establish trust with our patients.”
Hungry for Information
The goal of Visiting Day is to share information about mental health and mental illness from Mass General’s experts, said Michele Kessler, co-founder and co-chair of the Leadership Council for Psychiatry. Standing in a room crowded with preeminent mental health experts based at Mass General, she said, “The reason we hold this event is that these doctors are the best in the world. People are hungry for information.”
Three patients, paired with their own Mass General psychiatrists, told their stories about recovery from addiction, depression and the challenges of taking care of a spouse with dementia.
Britain Nicholson, MD, Mass General’s chief medical officer and senior vice president of Primary Care, welcomed the attendees, many of whom flew in from other states. He emphasized the importance of integrating mental health care across the hospital. “Our mental health partnerships extend throughout the hospital, in cardiology, in transplant and other surgeries, endocrinology and oncology,” he said. “As chief medical officer, I am committed to creating ever stronger connections with our colleagues in mental health.”
As an example of the hospital-wide commitment to mental health, Dr. Nicholson pointed to Mass General’s major initiative to “address the scourge of addiction” as part of its 10-year strategic plan. “We now treat addiction like other chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart disease,” he said, noting that Mass General screens and treats people with substance use disorders in the hospital and connects them with outpatient services once they leave.
Visiting Day included talks by Mass General experts on a range of topics, from depression and addiction to mental illness in children and adolescents.
Dr. Rosenbaum introduced a panel of speakers at an innovative session called “Stories of Recovery.” Three patients, paired with their own Mass General psychiatrists, told their stories about recovery from addiction, depression and the challenges of taking care of a spouse with dementia.
Sharing Mental Illness Experiences
One speaker was a young man who is recovering from years of addiction to opiate drugs. He told of the pain and shame of his relapses into drug addiction. Even harder than coping with the physical dependence on the drugs he said, was the mental addiction. “It was almost like having another being inside me,” he explained.
His treatment at Mass General with Eugene Beresin, MD, executive director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds led to his recovery, he said, although he knows that staying sober is a lifelong effort. He hopes to work helping other young people recover from addiction.
Patty Ribakoff, co-chair of philanthropy at Mass General, captured the spirit of the event when she read a passage from her poem, “If These Walls Could Talk.”
“If these walls could touch, they would embrace the scores of patients that have passed through these doors, carrying a multitude of ailments. They would touch the shoulders of patients here now and for generations to come and say, ‘You are safe because every resource available for your care, bar none, is here.’”
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