News / Halifax

Dalhousie med student breaking down mental health stigmas in medical community

Tara Riddell, 27, runs a website and social media campaign aimed at mental health education for doctors and patients alike.

Dalhousie University medical student Tara Riddell has created an online presence entitled Beyond the Body, to improve education around mental health.

Jeff Harper/Metro

Dalhousie University medical student Tara Riddell has created an online presence entitled Beyond the Body, to improve education around mental health.

Doctors may know how to keep our bodies healthy, but aren’t always adept at treating our minds, according to Dalhousie University medical student Tara Riddell.

The fourth-year med student, who also has a bachelor of science in kinesiology, hopes to help change that, by starting up a social media project called Beyond the Body, aimed at sparking the mental health conversation within the medical community – and beyond.

“Mental health and mental illness (are) something that we’re continuously seeing,” Riddell, 27, said Monday inside the Sir Charles Tupper Building on the Halifax campus.

“Regardless if you’re an emergency physician (or) a family doctor, you’re going to come in contact with it,” the Oakville, Ont., native said.

Riddell, who started Beyond the Body in her second year of medical school as a “one-woman operation” class project, has since recruited more than a half dozen contributors for the Beyond the Body website, Facebook page and Twitter account, since “multiple perspectives are better than one.”

Beyond the Body’s social media platforms feature everything from advice on how physicians can better address the emotional and psychiatric well-being of their patients, to stories of doctors who have dealt with mental health struggles such as depression themselves.

“Our hopes in the future are perhaps to include some podcasts and other different streams of media, but all available online, (so) it’s easily accessible,” she said.

Interest in Beyond The Body is certainly growing; her project received second place honours for poster presentations last fall at the Canadian Psychiatric Association’s annual conference, held in Vancouver.

Even six-time Olympic medallist Clara Hughes, a well-known spokesperson for the Bell Let’s Talk initiative who has been open about her own struggle with depression, has given Beyond The Body props on social media.

“I did a psychiatric emergency rotation my first year, which (was) really eye-opening, because you see such a spectrum of illness,” Riddell said of what has inspired her to focus her studies on mental health education.

“I remember becoming really fascinated with how the mind works.”

Riddell finishes at Dalhousie this June, and will be moving to Hamilton, Ont., in July to work on her psychiatric residency, and potentially her masters of education, at McMaster University.

She plans to spread the Beyond the Body message there, while also continuing the conversation in Halifax and across the country, for physicians and patients alike, in addition to the general public.

“It’s available to anyone."

But in medical school, “sometimes mental illness and psychiatry get the short end of the stick,” Riddell said.

“Hopefully, going forward … schools, whether formally or informally, include that as part of their education.”

Nova Scotia's mental health patients stuck in 'middle' of struggle for more resources: Dal med student

From long wait lists for patients to not enough resources for psychiatrists, Dalhousie University medical student Tara Riddell says there are gaps within Nova Scotia’s mental health system that need to be filled.

“The hardest part here is, there’s always such a high demand,” Riddell said Monday. “There is such a need, but there (are) not enough pscyhiatrists and there’s not enough … money to support having more beds and more resources.”

During her various outpatient and inpatient rotations, Riddell worked with patients on physical complaints, quickly discovering that mental illness was often a contributing factor.

“The problem was, either there were long wait lists, or by the time they got into community service, it took weeks to see even a psychiatrist or they had to do group therapy first, which wasn’t always amenable for these patients,” she said.

Riddell was reacting to the story of 20-year-old mixed martial arts athlete Cody Glode of Millbrook, who committed suicide March 1 while waiting months to access provincial mental health services following a doctor’s appointment.

"When he came in the house that day he was a defeated man,” father Matthew Glode told Metro in a recent interview of when his son came home from the doctor's office.

“And of course often, the people who need it the most don’t have the fund for private care, either,” Riddell said.

“They’re kind of stuck in this middle ground where they don’t have anyone.”

Check out Beyond the Body online:


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