Referring to the article: A physicist’s experience of the mental-health system

and podcast: Start-up simulates quantum photonics devices, a physicist’s experience of the mental-health system

Alex wrote a manuscript about their experiences with mental illness that they shared with a psychiatric researcher, but received no response. Undeterred, they cold-emailed psychiatric researchers and scientific magazines but only received rejections. Eventually, the editor of Physics World magazine reached out and expressed interest in publishing the manuscript. Despite being surprised and skeptical at first, Alex’s article was eventually published after six months. Alex thanks the editor for being courageous enough to publish something not typically seen in a physics magazine and wonders if there are more people out there willing to act and care about mental health issues.

A while ago, my counsellor asked me to write something to give to a psychiatric researcher she knew from her work at a mental health hospital. She felt strongly that the things I was talking about in our sessions needed to be heard.

I obliged. I wrote a sort of manuscript looking thing. At that time I didn’t have the energy to write it in any sort of structure to help the reader. All I could do was splurge what was in my head onto paper. I cleaned it up as much as I could, then sent it off to her.

Despite the researcher saying they would be interested in reading it, we heard nothing back. I was undeterred though. Despite being y’know, mentally ill, I was sure that what I had written was good. I “cold-emailed” a few psychiatric researchers I thought might be empathetic toward my cause. Still nothing. I suppose they probably never gave it even a cursory glance. But I didn’t stop there. I emailed scientific magazines I thought would be interested in publishing the article. At least I got rejections this time! (One within 2 minutes of me sending it).

I expected this. I have learned in my decade long war with mental illness that, unfortunately, not many care1. There are a few that do, but apart from a couple of counsellors and family, verbal (usually private) support was where most drew the line.

I much prefer having verbal support than none at all, or like many places in the world, the opposite. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t get frustrated by the lack of action.

I know that to act is inherently scary. There is always some risk to the individual in some form or other. I have discovered, however, that in most situations I have decided to act, I have grossly overestimated the risk. The default position of human opinion is “meh”.

Anyway, one day, out of the blue, I received an email from Matin, the editor of Physics World magazine. He decided to take the “action” route. He told me he was really interested in publishing what I had written. This manuscript that was by no means close to a format, structure or length to go into a physics magazine. Also as an anonymous author, he had no idea who I was or what I did. I was a complete nobody.

I sat there perplexed for a minute or so, wondering what dark magic was used to conjure this email and fool me into a false sense of hope. When I realised it was not in fact the dark arts and an actual real-life show of support, I lept out of my chair, walked around in excitement for a couple of hours. Before remembering that the time from acceptance to publication was generally, absolutely ages.

Six months later it was published. An actual feature article, in a proper magazine. Due to the hard work of Matin and his team, it makes some narrative sense and doesn’t take five years to read. I cannot thank him enough for being courageous enough to publish something not normally seen in a physics magazine.

Perhaps there are more people out there willing to act. Maybe people do care.

  1. Well, I think people do care, it is just they have too much on at the moment.