A Dialogue With a Physician About His Struggle With Suicidality and Mental Illness
Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.
Justin L. Bullock, MD, MPH, University of Washington School of Medicine, talks with Douglas G. Jacobs, MD, McLean Hospital, and Alan F. Schatzberg, MD, Stanford University School of Medicine, as part of the 2022 Suicide-Focused Assessment and Treatment: An Update for Professionals course.
Justin Shares His Story
Bullock has a conversation with Jacobs, Schatzberg, and the audience about his lived experience with suicidality, as well as his identity as a gay, Black physician who struggles with bipolar disorder.
Watch now to hear Bullock talk about:
- Living with bipolar disorder
- His experiences as a physician with mental illness
- Why Bullock has chosen to speak openly about his struggles
Bullock attempted suicide three times. In his talk, he describes how he first attempted suicide in high school when he came out as gay and those around him were not supportive. The second time happened when he was in medical school.
“I was doing therapy three times a week, and I was taking medications,” he explains. “I was running 60 miles a week. I felt like I was doing everything possible and I was still in immense suffering and pain.”
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After Bullock’s third attempt, which happened during his medical residency, he considered the shame and stigma he experienced. From then on, he decided to be open about his struggles.
During that time, Bullock was psychiatrically hospitalized. He participated in an intensive outpatient program for a month until he was cleared to return to work. Prior to his hospitalization, Bullock had done very well in residency, but his suicide attempt changed everything.
“When I tried to come back to work, I faced so much bias and stigma,” he says.
Bullock’s medical license was at risk. He was misdiagnosed with borderline personality disorder and was given a battery of alcohol, drug, and personality tests. He had to release extensive psychiatric records that delved into his history.
“That felt very invasive and traumatizing for me—to have to talk about being sexually and physically assaulted as a child,” Bullock explains. “These were things that felt very irrelevant to my work when I hadn’t had any workplace issues.”
Bullock felt his agency had been taken away.
“The committee actually did not have a psychiatrist on it,” he states, referencing the process he went through to come back to work.
“I felt like they were completely incompetent, not able to talk on a nuanced level, but still had so much power over me and my ability to return to work and my life.”
The experience inspired Bullock to become outspoken about his experiences with suicidality and with the health care system, as both a patient and provider.
“I feel very strongly that my bipolar disorder makes me a better clinician. I know it helps me resonate with patients,” he shares.
Bullock talks about his mental illness with patients when he thinks it’s appropriate and clinically useful to do so.
“There’s so much stigma even, within the medical field,” he says. “People are afraid to get help.”
“Mental illness is challenging enough as it is. We shouldn’t have these additional structural barriers that prevent people from getting the care that they need.”
You might also find this information useful:
- 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
- Suicide: Know the Signs and What To Do
- Suicide Prevention Resources
- Everything You Need To Know About Bipolar Disorder
- Video: Meet Andy, He Has Bipolar Disorder
- Video: Physician Training as a Model for Understanding Depression and Suicidality Under Stress
- Access to the full 2022 Suicide-Focused Assessment and Treatment Course
Learn more about the Current Status of Suicide-Focused Assessment and Treatment
About Justin Bullock
Dr. Justin Bullock is a fellow in nephrology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Dr. Bullock is a passionate medical educator, teacher, researcher, and lifelong learner. His primary research focus centers on how educators can minimize identity threats in the learning environment.
In addition to his education scholarship, Dr. Bullock is outspoken about his lived experience as a gay Black physician living with bipolar disorder.