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Dr. Maninderpal Dhillon Discusses Why Communication is Key to Improved Mental Health

Maninderpal Dhillon was born in Edison, New Jersey, but grew up in Detroit, Michigan, after his family moved there when he was three years old. He went to Michigan State University for twelve years. He graduated undergraduate studies with a double major in Human Biology and Psychology. He then went on to complete medical school […]

Dr. Maninderpal Dhillon
Dr. Maninderpal Dhillon

Maninderpal Dhillon was born in Edison, New Jersey, but grew up in Detroit, Michigan, after his family moved there when he was three years old. He went to Michigan State University for twelve years. He graduated undergraduate studies with a double major in Human Biology and Psychology. He then went on to complete medical school and a four-year psychiatry residency. 

In July, 2019, Dhillon finished his residency program. He began working two full time jobs shortly after completing his licensing board exam- as a tele-psych physician from the comfort of his home and also in an ER setting locally. His scope of medicine involves initial evaluations for diagnoses and follow-ups medication management. In addition, he assists in acute crisis where he conducts risk assessment and organizes a disposition plan. In his free time, Dhillon loves to travel and spend time with his family. He’s been all over the U.S. and has visited Europe, Asia, South America in recent years.  He loves watching and playing basketball (especially his Michigan State Spartans), a hobby he’s had since third grade. He enjoys being outdoors and taking care of his parents and grandparents.

What is your current position, and what does your typical day consist of?

I finished my residency in July of 2019, and I started working a couple different places. One of the jobs I work as a tele-psychiatrist. My patients are located in Muskegon, MI- 3 hours from home! I see them remotely where I conduct my interviews, determine if there is a diagnosis, and prescribe medications electronically if needed. I can also communicate very effectively with the entire staff that is present at the office- who can assist with getting lab results, reviewing controlled substance hx, assist with dispending medication boxes, and performing rating scales. There’s a massive shortage of psychiatrists across the nation and many patients are being seen through this method- especially in rural areas.

My other job is in an ER facility locally. Patients present in an acute crisis. They can present to the facility via many ways- walk-in, from a medical hospital, police drop off, or court-ordered. Once an interview has taken place, information is taken to conduct a risk assessment and then figure out disposition. In terms of disposition, it can be going to a psychiatric hospital, partial hospitalization program, a crisis residential unit, or following up with outpatient services or rehab services. 

If it’s severe, if they’re at risk of hurting themselves or someone else, if they don’t understand the need for treatment, or they’re just not functioning to do their everyday ADLs, a decision is made for hospitalization and staff assists with finding placement.

How do you remain productive and motivated?

Every day I wake up, I realize that I’m serving a population that gets overlooked. This population needs the most significant help, but they get the least amount of it. As everybody knows, there’s a huge shortage of psychiatrists in the U.S., and there’s a huge demand for it. Some patients will wait 3 months to see a psychiatrist! At the same time, there has always been a lot of stigma towards the field psychiatry for various reasons. Mental illness is similar to any physical illness that one would seek treatment for. We need a community who is open to this and wants to help. So every morning when I wake up, I know that I will be helping a patient and their family who truly needs help to get back to their functioning level.

What is one piece of advice that has always stuck with you?

I think one piece of advice that has stuck with me is that life is like a roller coaster. What I mean by that is there are going to be highs, and there are going to be lows. That’s what life is. It’s a roller coaster ride. When you’re at the highest, on top of the world, life is going great. Then when you’re at the lows, you start to think, why me? Why is my life not like theirs on social media? Is my life really worth living? Do I have a reason to keep living?

Majority of patients that I see are on the downhill or nearing the bottom of their ride, and I always remind them that they might feel at the bottom right now, but that just means the uphill is coming. Many people are ready to call it quits right at the bottom, not knowing what’s coming tomorrow. Life presents with many obstacles. You’re always one day away from it getting better. Why quit?

What do you love most about what you do?

What I love most about what I do is that it’s a very rewarding field. I’m making a difference in people’s lives. I get to see some patients go from feeling like they’re nobody, they have nothing, to having successful jobs, moving forward, and forming relationships with their families and friends again. They’re getting up on their feet again, finding a home, and finding a place to be. I feel like that gives me a purpose in this world, that I can make a difference in somebody else’s world.

How do you maintain a solid work-life balance?

I get asked that question a lot, actually, by my family and friends. I think the most important thing when you’re at work is to be entirely focused and dedicated to the work, the patients, what you’re doing, and to not be influenced by what’s going on in your life outside of work. Then, when you’re at home, as hard as it may be, leave work at work and focus on your loved ones, your family, and your life goals. It’s a fine line between the two, and sometimes it can be hard when you’re dealing with certain patients that you’re worried about. Remember, you’ve got to take the advice you give to your patients. Take a minute to breathe, focus on your life, be mindful of your life. Everything you preach you’ve got to do yourself if you want to be able to maintain a work-life balance.

What has been the hardest obstacle that you have had to overcome?

Medicine is a long path. You have to go to college, then go to medical school, then you have to complete three to four years of residency. After, some residents go on to a fellowship. It’s a very long path- taking over a decade after high school. While you’re on this path, many of your friends and family will start their first jobs, travel, get married, start families with children, or buy their first house.

During this time, you may be prepping for your next 8-9 hour licensing board exam or counting how many years it may take to pay off your loans. So, I think the biggest obstacle has been to stay motivated and determined on what you have chosen as your career. In hindsight, it is all very worth it. In medicine, you are a life-long learner. There will always be changes taking place- new medications being approved, new procedures and guidelines being implemented. Knowing this, and keeping up with journal articles, CME credits, conferences is key!

What is your greatest professional achievement?

My greatest professional achievement is being able to fulfill my dreams and become a physician who can help those in need. I know how much that means to not only me who had this childhood dream, but my parents too. My parents grew up in India, and their main reason for coming to America was to give their children a better life, a better lifestyle than they had. They did everything they could to minimize our stress at home, minimize everything we had to do so we could concentrate fully on our studies to achieve our dreams. As my father once said, knowledge can never be stolen. My greatest achievement will be the lives I have impacted and continue to impact during my career.

In your opinion, what role has the media played in breaking down the mental health stigma?

I believe, especially in the last few years, the media has been helpful in destroying the stigma that surrounded mental health in the past. There are many celebrities- whether athletes, singers, actors, or well-known figures- who have openly discussed their battle with mental health. This has allowed many to openly discuss it and reach out for help when needed. There are suicide prevention weeks and mental health awareness months. Many organizations and suicide hotlines been organized. Schools and universities are offering more assistance. There has been a spike in interest in psychiatry by medical students and mid-levels which is all good news for this field.

What would you do differently to further break down the stigma surrounding mental health?

As mentioned before, I want people to know that mental health is just like any other physical illness that you can encounter, that it’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. We all encounters stressors in this life. We all will go through rough periods. We will all deal with some points of sadness or irritability, or anxiety or stress, and we need to learn coping methods for it. I believe learning about mental health early on in schools would be helpful because it could create less stigma and help students and the next generation talk about it more openly.

What are some small habits our readers can do to better their mental health?

I think the biggest habit that somebody can practice to improve their mental health is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment. It is a therapeutic technique to calmly acknowledge and accept feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Take a few minutes every day and think about the positives going on in your life. I feel like as humans, we’re always looking to the future, we’re always thinking about what went wrong in the past, but we never take the time to appreciate everything we have in the present. What’s going well, whom we have in our lives, what we appreciate. I feel like if people did this for a few minutes a day, their mental health would vastly improve.

Outside of work, what defines you as an individual?

 Family values, cultural values, being there for my loved ones and helping out others are all very important to me. It’s fulfilling my duties, not only as a son, but as a grandson, friend, and, hopefully as a husband and father. Fulfilling my duties gives me a lot of gratitude toward how my own life is going.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years, I see myself continuing to implement what I implement towards my family, my patients, and my career in psychiatry. We will see what opportunities present as time goes on. Seeing the shortage and demand for mental health services, I see myself working in several different settings in my community for the time being. I envision myself opening or assisting in a clinic which will serve those that are most in need.

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