“Don't suffer in silence. Think twice about mental health.”
Many doctors have experienced mental health issues during COVID-19 – Dr Talha Sami is one of them.
The General Practitioner and A&E Registrar from Surrey suffered from anxiety and stress once the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK.
For Dr Talha Sami, COVID-19 had a major impact on a professional perspective, with the pressures that come with it.
The effects of COVID-19 also had a bearing on his personal life as well. Research indicates he is not alone in this.
In October 2020, the Centre for Mental Health said there would be 10 million people needing treatment for mental health disorders.
The British Medical Association reveals some alarming statistics relating to doctors, which came out in June 2020:
“The survey… found that 41% of doctors were suffering with depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress or another mental health condition relating to or made worse by their work, with 29% saying this had got worse during the pandemic.”
The eighth survey of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) also discloses some key information and data relating to doctors at the forefront of COVID-19:
“The impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of frontline doctors, who have worked for almost a year under the most challenging conditions the NHS has ever faced, is…beginning to show.
“Almost a fifth (19%) said they have sought informal mental health support during the pandemic.
“10% said they had sought formal mental health support from either their employer, GP or external services.
“While a third of respondents report feeling supported (35%) and determined (37%), the majority of doctors (64%) feel tired or exhausted, and many are worried (48%).”
Whilst Dr Talha Sami came back strongly, others continue to suffer.
In an exclusive conversation with DESIblitz, Dr Talha Sami opens up on how COVID-19 had taken a toll on his mental health.
He also talks about his successful recovery, writing a personal diary and supporting others.
COVID-19 Impact, Professional Help and Support
Dr Talha Sami reveals that there is pressure working as a doctor even at the best of times.
However, he states working at the forefront during the COVID-19 had an almost instant effect:
“It was tough to work on the frontline. I saw all of us going through it.”
On a personal level, he continues to add:
“Personally, myself I had problems and worries of bringing the virus back home. My honeymoon was cancelled.
“My marriage was delayed. I failed the last exam I needed to become a GP. That being said that exam was postponed.
“Over that time. I found myself getting more, worried, more anxious, more tense. These were new feelings for me.”
Dr Talha recognises, despite the pandemic affecting his day to day function, he saw some similarities in other colleagues too.
He felt there was no real urgency to speak with anyone from a professional capacity.
But in refection Dr Talha feels this was his shortcoming, as well as having the get on with it attitude:
“I didn’t feel the need at the time to speak to anyone about my anxiety and worries. I think I wish I did though.
“As a man often, we just want to get through it.”
“That being said as well in our communities, we often don’t talk about mental health problems. That does not always help.”
Dr Talha says he was fortunate though to have a supportive network, which made all the difference.
He acknowledges that some people don’t have a support base, which is vital to carry people through.
Dr Talha confirms having a debrief with colleagues was helpful. He also thought that everyone came together as a united force during these unprecedented times.
Monitoring Mental Health and Overcoming Stress
Dr Talha Sami states that he kept monitoring his mental health, which was like an effective release:
“I monitored my mental health, by journaling. It was so helpful to get all of it out. To put it all on the page just to let go. It was a real safe space for me.”
He says through journaling, his book, Take a Deep Breath (2021) came about, which again had an impact:
“Being able to just talk about working through worst health crises in the past 100 years with all my personal concerns was a release.
“I think what was concerning for me was when I found new found anxiety in there, it was creeping in.
“I don’t think I realised it and I had worries and tension – I didn’t know how to process that.”
“That was new for me, nonetheless, it was something that really helped.”
He emphasises that concerns also extended to some of his emotional patients who were fearful of dying.
Dr Talha told us he went on to reduce his stress through many ways:
“I tried to combat stress in many different ways. Having a supportive social network was really helpful, knowing that we’re all going through it.
“Furthermore, exercise and journaling were really helpful too. Therefore, I set up my own little home gym and began writing things down.”
His faith was also incredibly important for him, especially when everything fell out of control for him.
Take a Deep Breath and Advice
Dr Talha Sami tells us that Take a Deep Breath is like a private diary, taking into account the first COVID wave: Explaining further, he states:
“Those were worrying times for all of us. Things were going on that we didn’t really know how to deal with.
“Furthermore, it meant key workers like myself had a really difficult him to combat the virus, help other people, but then we had our own worries too.”
He talks more about the content of the book, with a subsequent addition, saying:
“It chronicles the highs and the lows, my romance, mental health, physical health problems.
“I’m working on a follow-up piece to it as well. It’s called, I Need A Second Opinion.
“There’s a spoken word piece to accompanying, Take a Deep Breath.”
With his wife being a junior doctor, he has some exciting content. His wife is the co-author of the next book.
He points that this book will concentrate on the couple working through the second wave.
Having experienced the challenges of anxiety and tension, Dr Talha Sami believes he has discovered a newfound approach to mental health:
“Through the COVID pandemic. I would like to think I am a bit more supportive.
“I’ve learned a lot more. It’s a really tough time for anyone, for everyone.
“I always want to try and give extra time to people when they have stuff to get off their chest.”
“I think the importance of having a supportive social network is incredibly important.”
He advises everyone to exercise, sleep right and modify diet – all things which psychiatrists say.
Dr Talha highlights a study undertaken by Yale researchers, which was published in The Lancet Journal in August 2018.
The research indicates the benefits of having a healthy lifestyle:
“A study of 1.2 million people in the USA has found that people who exercise report having 1.5 fewer days of poor mental health a month, compared to people who do not exercise.
“The study found that team sports, cycling, aerobics and going to the gym are associated with the biggest reductions.”
He also feels it is important to seek help – be it having a chat with a doctor.
Ethnic Communities and Final Thoughts
Dr Talha Sami believes ethnic communities are more prone to mental health as many individuals often do not talk about their struggles enough.
He also alludes to the fact that there is a stigma surrounding this topic amongst these communities.
As a result, Dr Talha expresses that he wanted to explore how the pandemic has been affecting key workers and individuals from an ethnic background.
Dr Talha feels this field needs a lot more attention, re-education, which he has begun to introduce as a doctor:
“So much more could be done for those suffering, with mental health. That’s why I’m trying to think twice about it.
“I’ve set up some mental health workshops overall. I think the focus needs to be on understanding more about it.”
“Recognising the symptoms of mental health problems, how to treat it, whether that’s yourself or with a doctor.”
He concludes with a strong message:
“Don’t suffer in silence. Think twice about mental health.”
Overall, taking light of Dr Talha Sami and his story, along with others suffering out there it is important to take mental health problems more seriously.
Watch an Exclusive Video Interview with Dr Talha Sami here:
Mental health issues have certainly skyrocketed, especially during COVID-19.
If anyone suffers from mental health issues, they must consult their GP for further advice and guidance.
In the case of Dr Talha Sami, it shows that doctors are humans too. Thankfully in his case, he successfully overcame mental health and keeps smiling away.
Dr Talha Sami has started a YouTube channel So Far Unsaid.
He started this channel to document his journey working as a doctor, exploring issues close to his heart in more depth such as race, mental health and spirituality.