After I expressed an interest in psychiatry, a colleague of my father, Dr Mary Mitchell, kindly offered me a day’s work experience shadowing her at Leigh House Psychiatric Unit for young people with mental disorders. Prior to my meeting, I researched child and adolescent psychiatry using mainly the Oxford Handbook of Psychiatry, which gave me detailed knowledge of the key themes; in particular, I learnt about diagnosis (and its often ambiguous nature), the different disorders and illnesses, and how they are treated.
I was particularly interested to understand how psychiatrists work to improve the lives of affected children; to have a mental illness at such a young age is incredibly unfortunate, and can be life-defining.
During the morning, Dr Mitchell gave me a tour of the unit, after which we went to her office and discussed medicine and psychiatry generally, and specific cases. I was surprised to discover that almost all of the patients were affected by some sort of eating disorder, usually anorexia or bulimia nervosa. Indeed, after I left for the day, a poster entitled “Who is the yoghurt man?” was put up, because I had eaten a whole full-fat yoghurt in the cafeteria for lunch; this is my most poignant memory of the day.
I also joined Dr Mitchell with her teaching medical students from Southampton University in the Special Studies Unit, “Film and Psychiatry”. We watched a film called Ordinary People, about a boy named Conrad who sees his older and more popular and successful brother drown, partly due to his own mistake. Conrad suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and we identified many symptoms including anhedonia, anxiety, and flashbacks. This was an interesting (and enjoyable) method of teaching that promoted a lot of discussion, and I was able to make several contributions. We ended the session with a discussion about the prevention and management of adolescent mental health disorders, as well as issues such as portrayal in the media and stigma.