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'I thought I was bulletproof' - Doctor opens up about battle with depression

PUBLISHED: 08:29 13 October 2019 | UPDATED: 16:18 13 October 2019

Dr Richard Gorrod opens up about his own battle with mental illness. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Dr Richard Gorrod opens up about his own battle with mental illness. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

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Dr Richard Gorrod, a GP for 30 years, found himself curled up in a ball on the floor and unable to function.

The 56-year-old had not eaten, washed or even drunk water, and was frightened by the slightest noise.

"I just completely collapsed." Dr Gorrod said, who lives near Holt and was a partner at Fakenham Medical Practice for 20 years.

"I was exhausted and I stopped looking after myself. I had loads going for me. I have a good job, a wife, kids, an income and a house. And despite all that, I was close to killing myself. It can happen to anyone."

In an experience he describes as "out-of-character" and "horrendous", Dr Gorrod went to see his close friend and fellow GP for the first time as a patient in 2014 - but was reluctant to accept he was suffering with mental health problems.

He said: "It was wrong but I didn't want it to be a mental health problem so I had physical tests, including a blood test and a brain scan.

"This is wrong again, but I wanted it to be a physical illness, so that there was something amiss with my body.

"There was such a stigma around mental health then, and I'm glad the conversation has opened up now.

"But my take as a doctor in his fifties was that it wouldn't happen to me. I thought I was bulletproof. I was distraught."

And despite hitting rock bottom and dealing with suicidal thoughts, the first treatment offered to Dr Gorrod was a telephone call with a therapist- six weeks later.

"It was really poor." Dr Gorrod said. "I was really ill and when you have severe mental health problems, you have no self-worth. I just thought, 'No one can even be bothered to see me.'

"The reality and condition of the illness was completely alien to me, even as a doctor. And although I didn't see it coming, in hindsight, it had been creeping up on me for several years."

He was later, at the end of 2014, treated at the Northgate Hospital in Great Yarmouth for two weeks before a lack of psychiatric beds in Norfolk led to out of area care at the Priory Hospital in North London.

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Dr Gorrod said: "Staying at the Priory was the best thing that happened to me, but in an ideal world, mental health patients would be cared for close to where we live because support from loved ones is essential for recovery."

While receiving treatment at the Priory Hospital, where Dr Gorrod stayed for four months, he said three of the 17 beds were taken by doctors.

"It is not uncommon." Mr Gorrod said. "Doctors across the board are under loads and loads of pressure and GPs are often completely run off their feet.

"It is a struggle to do the day job on top of other commitments. It isn't always a rosy environment.

"Depression happens to everyone. It certainly doesn't help when you're a GP as it's full on."

He added support is in place for medical students, but pastoral care is scant in the first few years of the profession.

Dr Gorrod said: "There is more support when you're at university and then when you begin as a junior doctor, the hours are extremely long and yet, at that point, the support stops."

"You have to jump through so many hurdles in the profession and it becomes a tick box exercise when you just want to help people. Over time it gets to you."

Dr Gorrod was medically discharged as a GP in 2014 over fears it would trigger a mental health relapse.

"It was a real blow." Dr Gorrod said. "A lot of my identity was wound up in being a doctor. I had worked as a GP for decades and then suddenly a lot of who you are is abruptly taken away from you."

"I can't say I miss everything, but I miss a lot - from the patients to the camaraderie among my colleagues."

He now works as a mental health campaigner and regularly presents to students at the Universities of Cambridge and East Anglia on the subject on mental health, and has also given a talk at the Royal Society of Medicine in London.

Dr Gorrod said: "Mental health is a serious public health issue and needs to be treated as such. It is the biggest killer both among young men and young women.

"I want to keep on raising awareness around mental health issues. We need to take a more holistic approach to treatment. At the moment, there are cracks in the provision of care."

Anyone who thinks they may be suffering from depression should talk to their GP or call the Samaritans' 24/7 free helpline on 116 123.

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