[BOSS] Dr. Dion Metzger on how a better mind leads to a better life; and why we can’t be so quick to blame the Charleston Massacre on mental illness
Dion Short Metzger, M.D. is a board certified adult psychiatrist who is passionate about the advocacy of mental illness. She was so gracious with her time that we were able to explore mental health from the Charleston Massacre to the stigma of within the African-American community.
What sparked your interest to go into medicine?
I decided to go into medicine when I was in high school. I always had an interest in the sciences and figured out that is what I wanted to do. My dad is also a physician and he inspired me. When I started college, I moved to Atlanta from New York, starting at Emory University and that started the path. I became involved in the Minority Pre-Medical Society, internships and working in hospitals trying to figure out where I fit in and what I love to do. In the third year of medical school you get to try all the specialties and I realized I love psychiatry. I love the gift to have the ability to treat symptoms of mental illness. It really played off of my major psychology and everything came together.
I love Atlanta. I went back to Emory for my residency and I have been here ever since. After I finished my residency I had some great opportunities to work in all different aspects of psychiatry from hospitals, private practice and now I’m doing community psychiatry.
This is my first time hearing about community psychiatry. What does that mean?
I work with patients who are in and out of the jail systems or hospitals who do not have access to care and proper treatment. We are federally funded to help patients receive Medicaid and resources to get them on their feet and back into society. It’s really been a pleasure. It’s been two years now. It’s been a wonderful experience.
How long did it take you to complete your education?
Four years of college. Four years of medical school and four years of residency. Twelve years total.
So, twelve years is true?
Yes, that is really a fact. I chose psychiatry; if you choose another specialty it can be seven years. Four years is on the short end.
Were you more inclined to become a physician because of your father?
Absolutely. The very interesting thing is my father did not push me to go into medicine. He was encouraging to follow my dreams, but there was no pressure on his side to go into the medical field.
My father was an OBGYN. I was exposed to medicine when I was younger and I would go with him to rounds, the office and private practice. I thought this is really noble profession. That’s when the spark came to me and I was able to grasp it in my adolescence. It’s been a wonderful decision.
There’s a major push for STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) in education. What’s your opinion on STEM programs?
What I’ve noticed in inner cities and males they’re pushing them towards STEM. I can only see positive results coming from it. A lot of times people don’t know all the careers you can have. One thing I learned in medical school, there are so many different opportunities. We put so much work into school and becoming what you want to be, go where you passion is. Go for your heart. Life is short. You have to do what you enjoy because we put in so many hours at work on a weekly basis.
You have an impressive educational background and career. What is the biggest hurdle that you had to overcome?
I didn’t like public speaking. When I had to do any presentations I would dread them days before. In med school we don’t do it as much compared to business arenas; I didn’t like it. After I got out of medical school I was doing a lot of teaching and realized it was my anxiety, the fear of the unknown that I like to do this. I joined Toastmasters, which is one of the best decisions that I made to practice public speaking. I went from hating to speak in front of a class of ten to being able to speak on large platforms such as national television. That’s just a testament to God and being able to face your challenge head on.
What has been the most significant success?
The progress I see in my patients is the most amazing to me. Working in community psychiatry I see patients that have pretty severe psychosis. Being able to treat someone like that and have him or her join society and have a better life, that by far is a success.
With such a challenging career, how do you challenge yourself personally on a daily basis?
With medicine we are always in learning mode. There are always new advances, new medications hitting the market and new patients with new diagnosis.
A personal challenge, recently, I had a baby so I’m balancing motherhood. It’s my second. I have a two year old and three month old at home. The biggest learning experience, compared to everything else is becoming a parent, in addition a wife and a doctor. Balancing all three of those has been humbling. It’s been a really great learning experience. It’s something I love learning every day.
This past June the news has been crazy with significant milestones as well as tragedies. In regards to Charleston, do you think a person (Dylan Roof) doing such an act can be considered mentally ill?
A trend that I have noticed when we see such a heinous crime committed often the media is quick to give a mental illness label and sometimes it’s too quick. With Dylan it was too quick. We didn’t learn about the history. We just saw a young white male who committed this awful crime. The instinctive thing is to think this is mental illness. My answer is no, you don’t have to have a mental illness to commit such a crime. In this case, it was very premeditated where a lot of times when there’s violence in mental illness often it’s impulsive and not as premeditated as you seen in this case. As a psychiatrist I can’t diagnose without seeing him as a patient.
Can we consider this a hate crime?
Yes, he pretty much confessed it was a hate crime and he was doing this and the racial slurs. We can say this was targeted towards the African American community.
We are starting to see white people become more involved with African-American matters through protesting, posts and videos are going viral admitting to white privilege. Are we heading in the right direction in order for us to acknowledge discrimination and change it?
Absolutely. I think by speaking out not just about white people, but everybody all races speaking out about this. Although there’s a specific race targeted in this incident every race really spoke up against it. No matter what, it’s hate. I totally agree we are heading in the right direction. I believe there is good in all people in all-different race and that’s something we have to remember. The more races speaking up about this is better.
Do you think we are using technology and social media in the right way?
I see technology as a good thing because it brings awareness and with awareness we bring more change to what’s going on. I see it as nothing but a positive. We have to know what’s going on in order to change it.
How can the African-American community respond to Charleston effectively?
We have to remember there’s good in all people. Try not to label. One person’s actions do not represent a whole race.
There is a big stigma within our community when it comes to seeking help. What can we do to get more people come to terms with seeing a therapist?
It’s more awareness. Part of my motivation is to go to these bigger platforms is to really advocate for that. I noticed in my days of private practice black people don't like to go to a psychiatrist. One of the main reasons is that people are afraid of labels or medication. They do not want people to treat them differently. For us to encourage people to see treatment is education.
What are some common occurrences to see a therapist?
Relationships are usually one of the most common reasons people go. They're having issues dealing with a breakup. Even marital therapy, couples counseling, are usually the first time they see a therapist because they're trying to fix their marriage or start a marriage.
Do we underestimate depression? Can it lead to suicide?
Depression can be just as paralyzing as physical illness as you don't have the motivation to get out of bed, your sleep and appetite changes. It can affect you from head to toe.
Yes, depression can lead to suicidal thoughts that can end fatally. I always give the comparison if you have high blood pressure (BP) and you could go to the doctor that would help you lower your BP would you go. They say ‘yes.’ What if your BP was so high it stopped you from socializing, spending time with your kids would you go? They respond ‘yes.’ Let’s change the word from BP to depression. Depression can stop you from all of those things. The beauty of it is you can be treated. Go and get evaluated. If something can improve your quality of life why not go and get help.
What are some immediate benefits of therapy?
Everybody can benefit from therapy. It’s having some non-bias person sitting with you. You telling your story is therapeutic. Just letting it out and venting is therapeutic. Talk to a professional and see what happens. It can make a difference. It’s completely confidential.
What do you have in store for the near future?
I’m getting back into the TV world. I’m hoping to do more health corresponding. I do have a focus on mental health but also talking from the MD perspective of what’s going on in the health world.
How do you define success?
I’m going to paraphrase what Lacrae said at the Blogging While Brown Conference: Success is what you are currently doing compared to what you are created to do. When you follow what your passion is, when you follow what you are created to do, it is the definition to success and I agree. Success is happiness. When you get up everyday and you are happy doing what you are doing.
For more information on Dion Metzger, please visit her site http://dionmetzgermed.com.
To hear the entire interview, listen to the podcast Networking With Michelle available on iTunes.