Comment: Feedback Physics World  May 2018

Tremendous courage

In response to the feature “My invisible battle” (March 2018), in which a theoretical physicist tells their story of battling mental illness while pursuing a research career.

 

Congratulations to the author of this impressive article, who clearly has been through a very difficult time, but who was courageous to share the story with the rest of us. I, too, suffer from bipolar disorder starting (it seems in hindsight) in adolescence, but not being properly diagnosed until my late 30s, by which time it had become considerably worse. I have now been on medication for 25 years and, unlike the writer of the article, I have stuck absolutely to that regime throughout. There is a resultant diminution in creative thought, including ways to tackle problems, and I miss that, though I do not miss the horrendous highs and lows in my mood.

As the writer said, there is still a major stigma around mental illness, and my own way to tackle that is to be completely open about my problem and how I deal with it. Watching people’s reactions led me to move from physics, which I loved, to the social sciences, which I enjoy but do not inspire the same level of passion in me. So, my “solution” (such as it is) to having a mental illness is to accept it, tell everyone you have it, stay on the medication, and talk, talk, talk with any supporting individual or group you can find. Thanks again to the anonymous author.

Robert Kerr

Wicklow, Ireland

rasputin@eircom.net

 

I really enjoyed reading this article written by a colleague who bravely tells the story of their fight to forge a career in physics, while simultaneously confronting the trauma of persistent mental illness. In my view the author displayed tremendous courage, determination and strength of character throughout the journey towards his/her goal. But I was saddened to be reminded that even in our stimulating academic community, tolerance, understanding and enlightenment do not always go hand in hand with knowledge and intellectual standing.

Perhaps we can all draw lessons from the story. Indeed, I am humbled when I remember how difficult and challenging I found my own parallel journey, but without the debilitating encumbrance of mental illness.

Peter Wright

South Woodford, London, UK

petercw5@yahoo.co.uk

 

Congratulations to Physics World and the anonymous author for your courage and insight in writing and publishing this article. Mental health is an important subject, one that is simply not discussed enough, and it impacts academic communities as much as any other.

Most of your readers (me certainly) will have direct experience of mental illness, in family, friends or colleagues. As the article illustrates, the impact can be devastating and will often be very difficult for those close to the person affected to deal with. However, keeping it secret and not talking about the problems that arise is rarely helpful. Mental health really is a case of “a problem shared is a problem halved”.

Paul Brankin

Oxford, UK

paul.brankin@ox-exec.com