My experience as a surgeon who left clinical practice because of mental illness makes me an ideal speaker about burnout and mental health, both for the medical profession and for society in general.

VOCEMENTIUM: A novel approach to addressing mental illness through conversation and openness. A solution to a problem too powerful to ignore, yet so hard to confront.

How do healthcare professionals speak about their own mental health? Can they do so freely? Do the conditions in your healthcare system allow conversations of mental health and mental illness? The cost of debilitating mental illness within healthcare physicians is staggering. Can your institution afford NOT to talk about its members' mental health?

I am a retired vascular surgeon. After twenty some years of getting medical education, training, and practice, I hung up my scalpel and picked up a microphone and keyboard instead. I traded O.R. Lights for stage lights. To be clear, my clinical career was cut short by mental illness, but I remain ever willing to help others. Only now instead of sutures and stents, I use words and the power of talk. I speak on the issues of mental illness in society, particularly in the medical profession, and I strive to start conversations about mental health within health systems.

Leonard T. Su, MD

Excerpts

Bringing Mental Illness Out Of The Shadows And Fog Through The Power Of Talk

MISSION: To speak about mental illness as a vehicle to engage others to join in conversations about mental health.

I started Vocementium in response to my own mental illness, and how I have chosen to address my own struggles with it.

 

The problem of mental illness in our society continues seemingly unabated despite very visible efforts to confront it. Widespread campaigns on the airwaves or in social media tell us to “talk about it” and to “destigmatize” mental illness. But everyday we hush it up rather than actually talking about it. We implore and give permission to talk publicly, but rarely actually does a frank and open conversation start. Conversations that do occur are often very impersonal, very third-person. We talk about others with mental illness, maybe in hushed tones, remarking what a sad story it is. Always implied in such conversations is the unspoken thought: "Better them than me."

 

We say we want to remove stigma, but still so many hide it away - either their own mental illness or that of a loved one. The result of so many continuing to stay silent is twofold. Firstly it keeps the sufferer alone, isolated and silent. Second it only reinforces the stigma as people’s silence becomes further cause for shame. Shame causes more shame. Stigma begets stigma.

 

I started Vocementium as a space to create conversation. I am a speaker. I did not feel I had any authority to simply tell others to start talking about mental illness. I decided just to start talking. I’ve done so regardless of anyone listening or not. I’m only one voice, but I’ll be as loud and as public as I can find avenues to be loud and public. And if by being absolutely open and honest about it, by holding nothing back, if perhaps it spurs more conversation, then I’ll have succeeded. I can’t tell people to talk about mental illness, but by simply talking I hope to get them talking about it nonetheless.

But that has been done before. People more and more are talking about mental illness, which is undeniably a good thing. It is not enough. As long as we only speak about mental illness, we only speak of it in terms that others still will see as different; there will still be some stigma attached to it.

Therefore my approach to speaking for the sake of the mentally ill is to re-frame the conversations as one of mental health. If we can speak of our mental health while we are in health, then when that health takes a turn, we will be able to address it on terms to which everyone can relate. To talk about mental illness in a way that doesn't discriminate, separate, or ostracize, we must first talk about mental health as an everyday concept.

 

My work starts through stories, namely stories about my own journeys through mental illness. My stories are my most powerful conversation starters. I also employ didactic speaking, as in the form of a Medical Grand Rounds, for example. As a retired surgeon with years of clinical practice, I can tailor talks and stories to the medical field, stories that are relatable to medical students, residents, and attending physicians alike. These stories focus on both burnout and mental illness in the professional setting. But my speaking translates very easily through story-telling to bring a powerful message to any audience. I am comfortable in all styles of venue or forum. I  speak one-on-one and will also help mediate small group sessions. I enjoy large auditoriums or small intimate rooms.

The point is to start talking. It doesn’t even matter what gets spoken, just as long as it gets expressed. Please join me because a conversation takes at least two parties.

Previous Speaking Events

Oct 2019 (upcoming)    Guest Speaker, Oregon Geriatrics Society State Meeting, Sunriver, Oregon

 

Sept 2019    Grand Rounds, University of Washington Medical Center Department Of Radiology, Seattle, Washington

 

Sept 2019    Guest Speaker, Society Of OB/GYN Hospitalists National Meeting, San Diego, California

 

Sept 2019    Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center For The Science Of Healthcare Delivery: Kern Scholar Special Grand Rounds, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota

 

Apr 2019    Leadership Conference, Speaker on Mental Health, Suncadia, Washington

 

Feb 2019    Wellness Conference (1st year medical students at U. of Wash WWAMI program), Moscow, Idaho

 

Dec 2018    Grand Rounds, Loma Linda University Department Of Psychiatry, Loma Linda, California

 

Nov 2018    Grand Rounds, Swedish Medical Center, Seattle, Washington

 

Nov 2018    Presentation to Overlake Hospital Provider Support Committee, Bellevue, Washington

 

Oct 2018    Grand Rounds, Evergreen Medical Center, Kirkland, Washington

 

Oct 2018    Presentation to Second Yr. Medical Students, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, Washington

 

Oct 2018    Keynote Speaker, Yale Club of Oregon & Southwest Washington, Portland, Oregon


May 2018    Panel Speaker, We Are Pivoting, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut