Mental healthcare is just as important as physical healthcare. Depending on the severity of the accident, injury victims may have a difficult time processing the traumatic event they went through. We had the pleasure of speaking about the importance of mental health with board-certified psychiatrist Christopher Hammel. He currently operates his practice, Connecticut Psychiatry, out of Hartford, CT.
What is the primary goal of a psychiatrist and what attracted you to this line of work?
As medical doctors, psychiatrists share the goals outlined in the Hippocratic Oath: healing, prophylaxis, harm avoidance, teaching, protection of privacy. But to bring it down to earth, when a patient tells me, “This is the most consistently happy I’ve ever felt; I wish I’d done this 20 years ago,” that’s a day I feel accomplished.
I’d wanted to be a doctor from a young age, but my path wasn’t a straight line. In college, I thought I would become a Philosophy professor, and I nearly did. But it was only after I left graduate school to pursue medicine that I realized how much Philosophy and Psychiatry overlap, and their shared emphasis on curiosity and self-discovery: Socrates encouraged everyone to “know thyself,” and psychiatrists do the same. It was when I found myself doing extracurricular reading in Psychiatry not for an exam, but purely because I wanted to know more about it, that I knew I’d found my specialty.
The two associated aphorisms, by the way—”nothing to excess,” and “surety brings ruin”—are at least as relevant in 2021 as they were 2,300 years ago. I ask my patients frequently: “Are you sure?”, “How do you know?”, and “What about some alternative?” A common topic of conversation today is how to speak to friends and family about strong beliefs. I find the most effective stance is to invite them to be curious about their conclusions, and to engage in genuine exploration together. If you can turn that from a battle into a bonding experience, you’re on the right track.
How long have you been practicing psychiatry and what do you find to be the most rewarding aspects of your work?
I obtained my medical degree (MD) in 2016, completed Psychiatry residency in 2020, and opened my private practice the next day, where I’ve worked since. I find that the most rewarding experience is helping support, guide, and treat someone with severe mental illness as they figure out how to live a fulfilling life. It’s a privileged position, and a rewarding one, to be able to help someone who survived a near-lethal suicide attempt continue his life, and to just be a person—to form friendships, start a career, adapt to hardship, fall in love, be present for his family, weather losses, discover things that make him happy. Sometimes the victories are less obvious, but just as rewarding, such as when someone who’s struggled with low self-esteem for the first sixty years of her life starts to advocate for herself. You can’t easily measure that in a study, but you can carry it in your heart.
Do you feel there is still a stigma that is attached to mental health issues, psychiatry, and/or obtaining treatment? If so, what can we do to help eliminate these negative emotions or feelings?
We know there is a persistent stigma attached to mental health issues as well as obtaining treatment. For example, a large survey published just last week by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that 84% of adults in the United States believe stigma is a major barrier to people accessing treatment for mood disorders. It’s even a problem for some physicians, as many states require doctors to disclose any mental illness as part of their licensing process. Anecdotally, I do believe people, particularly young people, are becoming more comfortable speaking about their mental health. That’s a good first step, but we have a lot more work to do.
Probably the most helpful things we can do are first, to talk about it openly and non-judgmentally with our friends and families, and second, to vote for political candidates who understand the need for better mental health initiatives and the funding to support them.
Your practice treats a variety of mental health disorders. What disorders are typically treated in patients who have been injured or involved in any type of accident and what are the most common types of accidents that patients have been involved in?
Most people in accidents don’t suffer from psychiatric illness as a result. However, some develop acute stress disorder, which can progress into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and an accident can also exacerbate a separate underlying psychiatric illness, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). I’m not aware of any evidence indicating that psychiatric patients are more prone to a particular type of accident, or that certain accidents predispose to psychiatric consequences.
What types of treatment programs or modalities do you most often use to help accident victims in their mental health recovery and what is the average time you treat these individuals?
My treatment is determined primarily by the psychiatric symptoms presented by the patient during the evaluation, and may involve both psychotherapy and medication management.
In a case such as an accident victim with associated mental health symptoms, I often first consider a course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), or another therapeutic intervention specific to traumatic events, sometimes in combination with medication management.
The duration of treatment depends on both the patient and the chosen treatment. Some treatments are time-limited, meaning you meet with your doctor or therapist for a certain number of sessions, after which the treatment is considered complete. Other treatments, such as psychodynamic psychotherapy, have no set limit. Some patients have symptoms which resolve, others are able to maintain their progress with ongoing treatment, and others struggle with symptoms that are more challenging to manage. I’ll end on a happy note: It’s exceedingly rare that I meet a patient whom I feel I won’t be able either to help, or to refer in the right direction.
Pro Tip: Accidents that involve significant injuries sometimes require the services of an injury attorney and a mental health professional who can assist in a variety of accident cases. Should you have any questions about your Connecticut accident case, please contact us.
If you are struggling with mental illness and feel suicidal, are thinking about hurting yourself, or are concerned that someone you know may be in danger of hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The above is for general educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Dr. Hammel is not associated with Hastings, Cohan & Walsh, LLP.