Strengthening patient care with mental health awareness and relationship

Article By Rachel Preibisch

David Wright, a rising medical intern with plans to work in holistic primary care, has developed a passion for integrating relationships and human connection into patient care. He believes in connecting medical professionals with mental health education, as well as the potential for better patient outcomes when approaching the diagnostic process from a behavioral health perspective.

Through his personal experience and his medical education, David has become an advocate for providing every outgoing medical student with a baseline of training in behavioral health. David’s life journey offers him a personal and tangible perspective on mental health and addiction. With vulnerability, he shares that his authenticity is what saved him as he struggled with the effects of trauma and addiction.

A native of North Carolina, David moved to Miami from Raleigh when he was in his 20s, a time he describes as a journey of “self-discovery.” The experience of striking out on his own intensified when his grandmother died. Shortly before her death, David had come out to her as gay, and as a child of semi-functional alcoholics, his grandmother had been an emotional and financial support to him as well as a keystone in his life. David describes her death as devastating.

In the period following his grandmother’s death, David began filling the space she left with cocaine, relationships, and eventually crystal meth. This phase took a further downward turn when David was diagnosed with HIV. Emphatic that after his grandmother’s death he wouldn’t take any pills, David was determined to only use natural remedies to manage his HIV. Before a year was over, he was diagnosed with AIDS, which was the point when he realized that he would die if he didn’t take a pill. David now calls his ability to use medicine to sustain his health an integrative thing. “I have this appreciation of allowing my body to heal itself but also recognize that modern medicine does have a role. In my case it keeps me alive,” he says.

What sparked David’s need to change his life was an intense spiritual emptiness. He realized that he was responsible for everything that happens in his life, and if he wanted to create change, he would have to make that decision and get help. Regarding the emptiness, he says “I was going nowhere. I was disconnected: no friends, no family. You know, someone told me that ‘brains only get you so far, and luck eventually runs out.’ And that was a driving point for me in this journey.”

Now David has been continuously sober since 2019, and he is attuned to the role of connection and relationships in this process. He acknowledges Johann Hari’s ideas on connection as a contribution to his healing: “I realized the opposite of addiction is connection. I truly believe that. And it’s not just a connection with other people, other addicts, other people with similar interests, but also a connection with myself and where I’ve been. You know, acceptance.” David credits part of his path toward recovery to Transcendental Meditation, which has been transformative to his life and journey. It was during his first period of being sober that David saw a brochure advertising an MD and an MS in Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, and he knew that this was the path he was meant to take. “I’m slowly but surely figuring out my niche,” he says. “There are all these emerging possibilities in the field of mental health. I feel like I am coming of age at the perfect time for this because there’s the re-emergence of this exploration of trauma and its relationship to health, the role of consciousness enhancing it.”

David understands that he can have a strong impact through simple steps. “I want to learn more in order to share more in order to heal more,” he says about his desire to have an impact through his work. He says that passion is what gets him up in the morning. He is also aware of his personal agency in his own healing process: “My relationship with [using] is what I get to establish and exchange,” he says, indicating that perhaps each of us has an area of ourselves that we can learn from and use as a source of energy out of which we can give back.

This mindset is woven into his perspective on patient care. Two crucial concepts that David sees as part of the role of a physician are the physician-patient relationship and patient empowerment. “People need to own some part of their health. To truly embrace that requires acceptance,” he says. “A lot is elucidated in 12-step approaches: Recognizing the problem, identifying your own role, releasing bonds of history, and sharing with others,” he continues. “It’s a trust thing. The better the relationship between patient and physician, the more the trust and the better an individual can own their role.”

David envisions the implementation of this in his future medical work as it relates to behavioral health. “It begins with a complete physical and psychosocial evaluation of a patient. That can be really difficult to get,” he admits. “It would behoove us to take a little more time to see: What is going on with this patient? Where are they in relation to it? What are they willing to do to change that or to get better? What is the patient’s role in whatever is going on, and how can they own that? The point is to have a purposeful, fulfilling life, and I want that for other people.”

David is a soon-to-be first-year resident, and he plans to spend his elective time doing behavioral and mental health work. His goal is to provide integrative modalities to support patients holistically, promoting physical, mental, and spiritual health, and to continue to advocate for all new doctors to be equipped to enter practice with training in mental health. He is passionate about playing a large role in patients’ lives, affecting change by imparting strength and hope, and empowering patients to discover the role they can play in their own health journey.