New Century: Overcoming Stigma, Respecting Differences
Good afternoon. Bienvenue.
I want to dedicate this lecture to the memory of my late parents, Reginald and Agnes Myers. I believe that today would be a proud moment for them.
A few thank you’s: Joice, thanks for making this a great year. Last year in Victoria I referred to you as my “silent strength.” Everyone laughed. So I’ve changed it: strength, “yes”—silent, “no.” Briana and Zachary, thanks for taking time away from your busy lives in New York City and Maryland and sharing in this special meeting.
All of you here today, colleagues, friends, and fellow members of the Canadian Psychiatric Association—thank you for your support and the privilege of serving as your president. I got to visit all of you in each of your provinces over the past year, except Prince Edward Island, with regret. Thank you for your hospitality and kindness.
CPA staff, thank you. Thank you for your guidance and mentoring. I marvel at your allegiance and commitment to the CPA mission. We are so privileged to have all of you on board.
One final thank you: I must thank my patients. And I want to do this publicly. Thank you for your generosity when I have had to cancel appointments at short notice, when because of a conference call or a quick trip to Ottawa, I have had to shift your appointments to early in the day, late in the day, or a Saturday. Thanks for your gracious understanding of my quest to extend my reach beyond the 50-minute hour.
Here is my lecture, a lecture with many clinical stories. They are all disguised to protect the privacy and dignity of my patients.
A little role play:
Me: Mom, Dad, there’s something I want to tell you—I’ve decided to leave Internal Medicine and switch to Psychiatry.
My Parents: Silence.
Me: Mom, Dad, are you there?
My Parents: Silence.
This is a fragment of a telephone conversation that I had with my parents in the fall of 1968. I was a resident at Los Angeles County USC Medical Center. Sure, they finally asked me some questions: “But why? Are you certain? What about all those years of medical training?” But it is the initial silence that I remember. Silence speaks volumes.
This was over 30 years ago. My parents came around once they saw how much I was enjoying being a psychiatry resident. That I had found my bliss, my soul in psychiatry. Fast forward now to May of this year. I am at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto conducting a seminar with residents on physician health and well-being. During the question and answer period I am passed a card with a question: “As psychiatry residents, how do we deal with the stigma of other specialties claiming ‘we don’t know any medicine’ or ‘your specialty is like voodoo-medicine’? Should we be discouraged?”
In the face of stigma, silence can be a stunned response. In the film Basquiat (the life and death of the talented New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat) Jeffrey Wright is asked—very obliquely and with no context—“Your mother resides in a mental institution, is that right?” Mr. Wright is silent.