The Conspiracy of Silence (World Mental Health Day)

“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
– Elie Wiesel


This piece is written for World Mental Health Day (10 October 2019)


There is a longstanding conspiracy of silence within the medical profession – doctors are not allowed to admit their mistakes or speak about their personal struggles in public. Any public admission of personal difficulties is considered a sign of weakness and a disgrace to the profession. In my medical training, I have seen numerous instances in which this culture has brought only harm to both doctors and patients.

A brilliant colleague of mine passed away recently from suicide. Nobody saw it coming. In the highly competitive environment in medical training, it is difficult to speak about our struggles with mental illness at work. After all, our training performance is evaluated by our direct supervisors as well as our peers through peer evaluation. Any admission of weakness only breeds distrust and raises doubts about our competencies. With the 120 hour work weeks, the rampancy of hospital staff abuse and the rigid demands of medical training, most of us have in one way or another felt a sense of resentment against the system and hopelessness about our prospects. Due to the demands of work, we work to the bone and often neglect ourselves and our families. Yet, silence about our personal grievances is the mandate so it must be adhered to like the medical oath.

Furthermore, any admission of medical errors is often regarded as contemptible in the profession. After all, did we not enter the profession promising to strive for high standards and achieve perfection? Medical errors are extremely costly; medico-legal wars are waged and careers are ended overnight due to the smallest of errors. Junior doctors find it difficult to admit their mistakes because this may ruin their career portfolios. Senior doctors find it even more difficult to admit their mistakes because this may damage their established reputation and pride. Due to this culture of silence, mistakes are often covered up or spoken about surreptitiously and the culture is further propagated. Ultimately, both patients and doctors suffer as a consequence.

We can do better as a profession. This veil of silence must be broken. Awareness about each others’ difficulties is powerful and allows us to help and complement each other in constructive ways. We have to acknowledge that beneath our carefully put together public image as doctors, we are in all ways as fallible as every other human being. We all have our shadows to deal with and repressing this aspect of ourselves is extremely dangerous to both doctors and patients. As Gandhi said, “Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.” Together, we can start the right conversations and create a safe environment for speaking up for ourselves and for each other in the workplace.

© nightdawnday
p.s. Leave a comment if this resonated with you. I love to hear your stories!

19 Comments Add yours

  1. It was nice to see someone acknowledge how ‘wrong’ it is in the medical profession to acknowledge our mistakes, it can have a detrimental effect on mental health. Loved this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Too true of too many professions – law enforcement, justice, government, clergy. We are all human, regardless of who we are and what we do.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. terryshen says:

    Is whistleblower protection law for the medical profession an appropriate response?


  4. We are none of us perfect. Every single person on this earth makes mistakes. It is terrible to be put in a position where you can’t acknowledge errors. Fallibility is what makes us human.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I love your posts
    Mental Health issues money allotment is the first thing to go that is why we work for min wage. You may not get rich with money but rich in a loving way. They are such awesome people, they make yr life worth while.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Abe Clabby says:

    Reblogged this on Abe Clabby Counseling.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So much of my breakdown was due to explaining my condition to poker faced professionals who probably had no clue why I felt or experienced what I do. I’m sure behind that face they also struggled with their own demons

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Kate says:

    there is also a great fear (u.s.based) that admitting any weakness at all opens you up to lawsuits. hospitals won’t hire you, etc. as it is too legally risky.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Good one!

    My philosophy on psychiatrist and such is

    “First Heal Yourself!”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. We have the same problem in the Social Work/Mental Health World. The jobs are demanding. The things we see and hear are more then we can bear sometimes. But we are supposed to slog through the pain and heartache with a smile on our faces because we are the “professionals.” Well this professional right here can tell you that she is suffering from anxiety and depression so bad that it is crippling. But I dare not say anything to a co-worker because I don’t want to be see as less then able to do my job. So I see a counselor and it helps but never enough.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. lexie0590 says:

    I often thought about how I would be looked at if anyone knew my past/ongoing struggles with mental illness as I’m working towards a masters in clinical counseling. However, I’m trying to embrace the notion that my experiences will only amplify the empathy that is so deeply needed in my chosen profession. I can see their hearts on their sleeves and truly understand them as a human being. You are absolutely right though, silence is safe….for the public, but breeds in those of us with pursed lips even more despair. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. mezruth says:

    I think doctors and many others in upfront professions truly do it tough when it comes to mental health. I lost a cousin to suicide- he crumbled under the weight of so much stress, much of it from the unreasonable hours he had to work as a young doctor. I wish there could be a greater openness in the professional world so that support can then be given.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Shishira says:

    So true. I saw this when I was an administrator. Senior Ortho went home after his evening OPD at hospital and exactly at 2AM, his wife a paediatrician called up to inform he hanged himself. He never exhibited any symptoms, very soft spoken and very empathic by nature. Was terribly shaken because half of us don’t think that clinicians need help too. Thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. mesabele says:

    Descuidarse a uno mismo: Una tragedia Posmoderna.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Davis says:

    So true


  16. Tina Friesen says:

    The conspiracy of silence resonates with me in a different way. I tried to post a link to this article on FB and received a notification: Your message couldn’t be sent because it includes content that other people on Facebook have reported as abusive. And another: Your post couldn’t be shared, because this link goes against our Community Standards. What I am saying is that we are being silenced in numerous ways and this is just one of them. It is time we speak. For instance, I tried to post a link to a letter that 500 scientists wrote to the UN at the end of October, claiming that we cannot definitely say how much of climate change is man made and I received a pop-up message from FB telling me that I would see my “overall distribution reduced and be restricted in other ways” if I repeatedly published or shared false news. Apparently this letter from 500 scientists was so threatening that it had to be flagged.

    Liked by 1 person

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