Dr Mindi Fitz-Henley championing psychiatry, mental health support

Sade Gardner

May 1, 2022

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THE DISTINGUISHED — HEALTH

Jamaica’s Fitz-Henley family has a long legacy of excellence in media, education, law and medicine, but that didn’t pressure Mindi to pursue medicine. The psychiatrist and president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association (JMDA) always knew she wanted to be a doctor and was even manifesting it as a child, scribbling ‘Dr Mindi’ in notebooks.

With her father being respected dermatologist Michael Fitz-Henley, she was privy to all the sacrifices, late nights and absences from sentimental events because of the nature of the industry, but was still firm in her ambitions.

“He asked me many times if I was sure I wanted to do medicine, so I like to say I became a doctor despite seeing the reality from an early age,” she told Flair. “I do know that my family would have supported me in whatever profession I chose, once it was what I loved, and they could all see that helping people is what I was devoted to. My path to becoming a doctor was not linear, as my medical setbacks began in medical school; and without the support of my family, friends and God, I would not have made it.”
She initially had her heart set on becoming a surgeon, but switched gears because of medical challenges, which resulted in two back surgeries “due to continuous pain and being non-functional”. Her connection to psychiatry traces back to adolescence, as she has been a camp counsellor since age 15. Her love for the specialisation was solidified when she set foot on Ward 21 at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) for her psychiatry rotation in her fourth year at The University of the West Indies.

“I’ve always been someone that was easy-going, and that has caused people to open up to me easily, which has been a huge asset for me,” she said. “In the past, people have looked down on psychiatry, saying it is a ‘light and easy’ speciality, but it couldn’t be anything further from the truth. With the ongoing pandemic, people’s mental health has been affected, and so we are in even more demand now.”

She’s now doing what she described as her “dream job”, working as a psychiatrist in the government clinics across Kingston and St Andrew. She deems social psychiatry critical as one gets to work in the communities patients live in, thereby connecting with their loved ones and social influences to better understand other factors affecting their illness.

“We not only treat them medically, but also try to find out how we can help in other areas, like getting them jobs, food supplies and housing. All of that requires a full team, and while we don’t have all we need, we try our very best, and I am proud of the work we do.”

Fitz-Henley’s schedule has been busier since the pandemic. She was on the last lap of her psychiatry residency at the UHWI in 2020 when COVID-19 hit, and was also serving as second vice-president at the JMDA. The entity participated in daily meetings at the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), which were crucial to the medical and operational management of the virus. She was appointed JMDA president that August, all while still attending daily EOC meetings and her classes, and working full-time and being on call at the UHWI. So how does this mental health advocate cater to her own mental health, especially over the last two years?

“Unfortunately, I haven’t always been taking care of myself as well as I know I ought to,” she admitted. “I have a rule of only watching non-serious shows or shows with comedic value after difficult days. I set aside time for my worship music and quiet time, even if it’s only while I’m getting ready for, or driving to work. I also spend time with my niece and two nephews, as my number one priority in life is being an aunt. I also spend time with my new puppy.”

She is looking forward to the upcoming wage negotiations and garnering mental health support for doctors. She added, “I’ve been inspired by all the strong female leaders I worked alongside at the EOC and in the long run, I hope to do further studies in social and disaster psychiatry. I look forward to a time when psychiatric illnesses can be viewed like any other chronic illness, and that persons don’t feel they need to hide their diagnoses from family and friends, and that we can have access to more medications.”

sade.gardner@gleanerjm.com

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Sade Gardner

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