A psychiatrist returning to work after a severe mental illness

Elsevier, The Lancet Psychiatry, Available online 24 August 2023
Jordan Sibeoni, Anne Revah-Levy

Psychiatrists can tend to forget that we, as all human beings, can also develop severe mental disorders. This is the case for one author of this essay. After an episode of pericarditis, she had presented with a severe depressive disorder with psychotic symptoms (Cotard syndrome) for which she was admitted to hospital and treated by electro-convulsive therapy. She was on sick leave for almost 2 years. Initially, following the advice of her psychiatrists, she was admitted to hospital under an alias, but after several weeks, she decided to disclose what she was experiencing. In her recovery process—and as a creative way to fight against stigma—she wrote a book about her own lived experience of this severe mental illness, L'intime étrangère: roman. During this sick leave, in her psychiatric department, the topic became both taboo and a subject of gossip: nothing explicit was ever said about her condition in staff or doctor meetings—just that she was sick—but at the same time, people were gossiping about it, as if it was a shameful secret.

In this essay, we address the specific issue of the return to work of psychiatrists after a severe mental illness. We build our reflections on what happened to the co-author of this essay when she recovered and came back to work, and on how her colleagues acted upon and reacted to her return.