A top Australian doctor has shared details of his serious mental health battle before taking up one of the country’s top health jobs.
Former Deputy Director of Health Dr Nick Coatsworth has opened up about his post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis just months before taking up one of the nation’s top medical jobs.
As the Covid-19 pandemic hit Australia, the infectious disease expert was appointed one of three deputy health directors.
The promotion came just months after he was diagnosed with PTSD.
Dr Coatsworth developed the mental health disorder while traveling in Central Africa while volunteering with Doctors Without Borders.
It was in the Darfur region of Sudan where he described the constant anguish of threats of assassination and kidnapping.
On one occasion, an explosion occurred at the hospital where he worked. The militia invaded and he was forced to evacuate his crew through the rear exit.
“I think everyone has their limits in life,” Dr Coatsworth told Today Show host Karl Stefanovic on Wednesday morning.
“This constant pressure for four and a half months, I started having symptoms.”
He described feeling heart palpitations so intense he thought he was going to have a heart attack.
When he returned home, the symptoms not only persisted, but worsened over time.
“I was taking my pulse all the time to make sure I was still there,” he said.
“It got to the point one weekend where I couldn’t leave the house, I was sitting there gorging on Nordic Crime Thrillers to deal with it.”
The doctor said a big sign he needed help was when he started getting angry at his co-workers, a line he had never crossed before.
It took a lot of persuading for his wife Rebecca before he finally sought help from his GP.
He was referred to a psychologist – who diagnosed him with PTSD – and prescribed medication to treat his anxiety for a year.
A few months later, he received a career-defining phone call offering him a job as the health director’s right-hand man.
“It was the first time I was like, ‘Should I do this job?’ I had to go on and do it, of course, but it was a tough decision,” Dr Coatswoth recalled.
“It’s incredibly powerful that you tell this story,” Stefanovic said.
“Here we have one of Australia’s most prominent people, a very capable intelligent man, seemingly inscrutable with confidence and a bit broken inside.”
Dr Coatsworth encouraged Australians to keep track of when mental health issues begin to affect their daily lives and to listen to loved ones who suggest seeking professional help.
“The biggest hurdle is admitting you need help first,” he said.