Mental health professionals will be the first to tell you how important it is to prioritize care for your emotional wellbeing. But despite their expertise on the subject, they’re not immune to struggling with conditions like anxiety and depression themselves. In our newest series, we ask psychiatry and psychology pros living with mental health conditions what they use to cope.
First up is Jessi Gold, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. She’s a tireless advocate for destigmatizing mental health conditions and has been open about her own struggles with depression, including her journey with mental health medication.
Here, Dr. Gold shares the tools she relies on for taking care of herself and keeping her depression and burnout symptoms at bay.
Dr. Gold first realized she was struggling with depression when she was in college, around 2008. “I was a big believer that because I was getting good grades and functioning, I was fine, but I was definitely struggling,” she says. “My family and friends encouraged me to go to talk to someone.”
That summer, Dr. Gold started seeing a therapist, and she still attends weekly psychotherapy today. “I’m in a field that values therapy as part of training as a way to better understand ourselves and our reactions to patients, but it’s always been a big component of what’s helped me personally, too,” she says.
While Dr. Gold has experienced a few episodes of clinical depression since college, these days her therapy sessions have been centered around burnout. Her primary care doctor recommended a vitamin B12 supplement when she said she was feeling exhausted all the time and avoiding her email when she was supposed to be working, but that didn’t stave off her constant fatigue. Instead, it was a chat with her therapist that clued her into what was going on.
“It’s silly in the grand scheme because I give lectures on this, but I had trouble connecting what I knew about to my own experience,” she says. “That’s one reason it’s so helpful to have an external observer, like a therapist.”
Around the same time she started seeing a therapist, Dr. Gold also got a prescription for Wellbutrin (bupropion), an antidepressant medication, from her primary care provider. She’s been on the same dose ever since with zero changes, and she has no plans to stop anytime soon. “I went down on my dose once in med school and was a lot crankier, and as a result, I just haven’t gone off them,” she says. “Why bother changing things if it helps?”
Support from loved ones
Dr. Gold, a self-proclaimed extrovert, says making plans with friends helps her get through the week. Weekend plans in particular give her something to look forward to. “I’ve always heavily relied on other people to support my mental health,” she says.
Her dog, Winnie, also motivates her to get out of the house when she’d rather stay in bed. “It really gets you out of your self and out of bed, doing things, even if you want to be lazy on a weekend or it’s cold,” she says.
Good sleep hygiene
Early on in the pandemic, Dr. Gold says she took stock of her coping mechanisms and realized how much her mood relied on quality sleep. Since then, she’s been prioritizing sleep hygiene habits to ensure she gets as much rest as she needs. One big part of that, she says, is going screen-free before sleep.
“I try not to use my phone right before bed, and instead, I try to read non-mental health or medicine-related books so I’m not thinking about something work adjacent as I fall asleep,” she says. At the top of her list are all the picks from Reese’s Book Club and anything by the novelist Taylor Jenkins Reid.
Along with teaching medical students, Dr. Gold spends a lot of time writing about psychiatry and mental health for her job. (Her column in InStyle is a must-read for anyone who’s interested in mental health.) Even when she’s not working, though, she says she carves out time to process her emotions through writing. To de-stress, she intentionally free-writes with a pen in a physical journal rather than typing on her computer. “It helps to know I’m writing something that’s not for other people’s consumption,” she says.