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18 September 2012

Cathy Wield, medic and author

Cathy Wield, medic and author

Cathy Wield is a retired medic and author. This year, she participated in the multimedia campaign to draw attention to World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th. Cathy married midway through her training at St George’s Medical School and had their first baby during her final year. Following eight years bringing up their four children she swapped roles and started work as a medic.

Cathy loves writing and her passion is to bring mental illness out into the open, from behind closed doors.

As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I have always wanted to be a doctor!

How did you end up in healthcare?
Initially I thought I would become a GP, but then an opening came up for me to train part-time in Accident & Emergency and that’s what I started to do. I loved my job as doctor, just as I loved my job as mother and wife.

Why did you choose to become a staff grade psychiatrist?
My husband Phil was made redundant and was looking for work around our home town of Southampton, but to no avail. We both heard God whisper to us, Scotland, and this was confirmed in a number of ways. Phil successfully applied for a job in Aberdeen and I could join him as I was working part-time as a specialist registrar in emergency medicine (A&E). I was struggling however with my shift pattern when I saw the advert for a staff grade in psychiatry, and felt God was telling me to apply. I must admit I was still surprised when I got the job. I had spent time in hospital with depression and I wanted to ‘give something back’ and learn more about psychiatry, so this seemed perfect.

How has mental illness shaped your life?
When I was 34, working in A&E, I suddenly became seriously depressed and suicidal. I was admitted to hospital and then spent the next 7 years living a nightmare with this awful illness, sometimes at home, much of the time in hospital. As a ‘mental patient’ I found  the way I was treated by society and even by some members of the hospital staff very belittling. 

When I recovered I decided to speak out about my illness and fight against stigma. I had self-harmed, attempted suicide, been severely ill with a prognosis that I would die, yet had survived. 

I wrote my first book Life after darkness when I was working back in A&E. I made mental health, self-harm and suicide my special interests and taught about them within the departments where I worked. I tried to spread the word that anyone suffering from mental distress deserved to be treated with respect and empathy rather than a punitive or dismissive attitude. 

I wrote my second book A thorn in my mind to address the stigma that unfortunately still exists within the church, and now with my husband, a counsellor, run workshops on depression for churches and other organsisations.

What makes you happy?
My family and friends, particularly my husband and grown-up children and seeing my grandchildren. I am also really happy when I see stigma breaking down especially within the church.

I love good wine, food and fellowship and also being able to sit and read a good book!

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in life?
To never give up. During my bouts of depression, everything is despair and darkness but in fact it has lifted despite my believing it never would. I need to keep going, never lose hope and always trust in God.

Has the national campaign raising awareness about suicide born fruit?
I do not have the statistics to be able to answer this question. The suicide rates for the UK remain relatively stable, with a slight downward trend. There are three times the number of suicides in men than women. However these deaths are potentially preventable and it is of paramount importance that we as a society tackle the stigma surrounding the subject. The church needs to lead the way rather than lag behind. 

What biblical text or personality inspires your work?
Isaiah 61:1-4, as I wrote in the introduction to A thorn in my mind: This passage is utterly inspirational, fulfilled by the coming of Jesus (Luke 4:18–21) and a prophetic mandate to release those who are held captive by darkness in one form or another. 

I have been broken-hearted, a captive, a prisoner to mental illness . I have mourned as one who has lost and I have grieved yet all the while being a Christian – one who is ‘in Zion’, but I have also been given a crown of beauty, the oil of gladness and a garment of praise. Even more exciting as the passage goes on, it says that those who have been released will become the new builders who will ‘restore the places long devastated’ and ‘they will renew the ruined cities’. So I see the future for those who have long been held captive to mental illness as much as captive to anything else.

What’s the best and worst thing about retirement?
The best thing is being able to choose what I can spend my time doing and the worst thing is missing A&E, with all the requirements for decision making, diagnosis and direct treatment of patients. 

What’s your hope for the NHS?
That it remains free at the point of care and that everyone who works in it will see that mental health is as important as physical health, so that it is prioritised in terms of resources not just in mental health services but all across the board.

Tell us a joke
How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?
Only one but the lightbulb has to want to change!