Few experiences can compare to holding a human brain.
It was my first year of medical training. I was nineteen years old, and as I stood in the cold, sterile dissection room with a brain in my hands, I wondered how a lifetime of memory, feelings and thoughts could arise from this one-kilogram tofu-like substance.
This fascination with the brain, coupled with my desire to help people live happy and meaningful lives, led me to a career in psychiatry. But as I moved deeper into my career I discovered that while psychiatry helped save people’s lives, it often left the flourishing part of the equation to other health professionals. I realised that this was the part of the journey I was most passionate about. I wanted to support people in thriving, not just surviving.
Truth be told, throughout my training, as I worked twenty-four-hour shifts on the wards, my own health and happiness were being affected. As a highly sensitive person who deeply cared about her fellow human beings, the work I was doing was taking its toll, at times leaving me stressed and overwhelmed.
I wasn’t alone. As I spoke with my colleagues, I discovered a silent epidemic of doctors experiencing vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and existential crises of their own. One day I turned up to work to find that one colleague had admitted himself to a psychiatric clinic. The pressure had sent him spiraling into a severe depression.
Alarmingly, the World Health Organization now considers depression as the leading cause of ill-health and disability worldwide. And for a great number of the people suffering there are simple, free and non-pharmaceutical ways of managing their mental health.
Much of the research in the field of mindfulness explores the impact of thirty to forty-five minutes of meditation a day on physical and psychological wellbeing. Excitingly, in my own scientific research I discovered that just ten minutes a day of mindfulness meditation over one month was enough to support more positive emotions, reduce stress, increase self-compassion and strengthen focus in daily life.