As I have progressed in my OT training, both through classroom and fieldwork education, I have unexpectedly learned one reality of our profession: depression is all around.
This past fall semester, I did one of my Level I fieldworks in an inpatient mental health setting. Through this experience, I realized that I really enjoyed working with people who were depressed. I couldn’t explain it. I just connected with them really well, and it felt so natural for me. The problem was, though, that I couldn’t see myself working in a mental health setting. But I really liked depression.
A weird thing to say, for sure.
Keeping this newfound interest in mind, I became more cognizant of places in which depression may present itself in Occupational Therapy. And you know what I realized?
You don’t have to work in mental health in order to work with people who are depressed.
Depression is all around. It’s part of the nature of what we do.
This realization hit me the hardest after sitting through nearly 30 student presentations on various medical conditions at the end of the fall semester. During nearly every presentation, depression was mentioned as a common co-morbid condition.
Traumatic Brain Injury: depression. AIDS: depression. Alzheimer’s Disease, Fibromyalgia, Substance Abuse, Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Burns, Hip Replacement, Cystic Fibrosis, Binge Eating Disorder: depression. And the list goes on.
When people lose their ability to function as much as they once did (even if only temporarily), or when people have a condition which causes them to believe that they will never lead a “normal” life, depression can easily set in (that’s not to say that it always does for every person, but…).
So here’s what I’m wondering. Why do we pigeonhole “mental health” so that only people who want to work in “mental health” settings will be prepared to work with people who suffer from depression? If depression can pop up anywhere, in any practice area outside of “mental health,” shouldn’t we all be prepared to respond therapeutically? Our clients/patients don’t get to sweep their depression into just one corner of their life. So why should we sweep our mental health training into just one corner of our profession?
Can Occupational Therapists address their patients’ depression even though their primary diagnosis may be that they had a stroke, or an amputation, or a Traumatic Brain Injury?
Our profession is supposed to be holistic in its view of people and its approach to their well-being. Can our treatment reflect that when it comes to addressing depression (or other mental health issues such as PTSD, Anxiety Disorder, etc.)?
I realize that this is neither a simple question, nor will it lend itself to a simple answer, and there are many more layers that need to be talked through.
But I’ll end this post with one question: If you knew that you would likely treat people with depression no matter what type of Occupational Therapy you went into, how would that affect your preparation to enter the field, or your practice once you’ve already entered it?
I would appreciate any responses as I continue to think through all of this!