Every year when September rolls around, we are reminded of the lives that we have lost to suicide. Such a taboo and stigmatized topic is brought to the forefront in order for us to be able to try and recognize the signs, make sure our family and friends are feeling safe and content and to even check in with ourselves. Throughout 2020, and in the U.S. alone, there were just under 46,000 recorded suicides. These findings also showed us that between 2000 and 2020, the suicide rates went from 10.4 per 100,000 people to 13.5. Leading us into 2021, where that number has already risen to 14.5 per 100,000 people.
Though, in the healthcare world, doctors have been recorded to have higher suicide rates than those in the general public. So much so, that the suicide rate of doctors is the highest of any profession. The Missouri State Medical Association in 2019 found “an estimated 300 physicians die by suicide per year.” How did this start? Apparently, right from the beginning. The study goes on to state ”Current literature suggests mental illness and burnout are epidemic in physicians and medical trainees. One study found 20% of medical residents met criteria for depression while 74% met criteria for burnout… Yet even with high rates of illness and knowledge of mental illness gleaned from their own coursework, physicians and trainees rarely seek treatment. The trend starts early: per Rotenstein et al. while 27.2% of medical students exhibited depressive symptoms, only 15.7% percent sought treatment.”
Along with the discretion of mental illness in the healthcare industry – because when you are working a high-pressure, highly stressful job where you see suffering on a daily basis, of course, your mental health is absolutely sparkling with perfection – those who are suffering suffer in silence and won’t seek out the help they prescribe to others. Why? Well, there seem to be a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, in short, the system (PHP: Physician Health Program) that is currently set up to assist physicians with their mental health is bogus, inappropriate, frightening and foolish. Not only do you require to show records including psychotherapy sessions, with intricate details, to the state licensing board, but their follow-through boasts a reputation for being cash grabby, not thought through and accusing. It forces physicians into scary isolating treatments where religion is involved, to have either constant supervision while they are working or arbitrary visits without “any specific evidence of current impairment,” according to an article in the Washington Post. Secondly, once the information has been relayed over to the PHP, the physician is officially trapped in the identity. If physicians’ own follow-through of the PHP requirements is uncompleted, they could potentially lose their medical license.
On top of this, there is a well-known link between trauma and stress. The same article also notes we’ve “known for some time that trauma can change the structure and chemical makeup of the brain. It hijacks the ability to reason and activates our most primal emotional responses. It should come as no surprise, then, that there is a proven link between trauma and suicide.” While traumatic experiences were occurring pre-pandemic that were already being swept under the rug, the unrelenting toll of the pandemic on healthcare workers – that is still occurring today – has been a traumatic experience that has not merely brought on depression and burnout but has already taken the lives of healthcare workers.
From the outside, it doesn’t look good, and there doesn’t seem to be a prominent direction that those suffering from mental illness can go. From the inside, the struggle and turmoil are constant. As a result, we need to know how to support others and help ourselves through these times of suffering and lack of help.
As someone who has a doctor or physician in their life:
While it sounds cliché, communication is key. Having conversations, and finding out how they are genuinely feeling and the things that have happened throughout their day can be really important for them. Understanding that they have someone to talk to and understand their struggles are vital for their well-being. You can also go a step further and help them either with their daily life i.e. cooking meals, helping around the house, etc; or, getting them out of the house by partaking in interesting activities. If you can be a person that they can lean on, you can support their mental health immensely.
As a medical professional who is feeling their mental health declining:
Once you have recognized you aren’t doing well, then you need to seek the help you can get. This step can be incredibly difficult to establish, but it’s vital for your well-being. If you are able to lean on your friends and family, speak with them and understand you do have people in your life you can go towards in times of need, that’s a great start. On the other hand, if you do feel you require professional help, many pay out of pocket for specialists. An option that if you need, you should absolutely do.
If you happen to be someone who is feeling stuck or needs to find a change in your course, Locum Tenens could be the perfect answer for you. By taking on the role, you have the opportunity to work in different facilities around the country, travel around and find adventures in different states and manage your mental health by creating your own schedule or taking time between assignments to rejuvenate. It is a path that many physicians and doctors are embarking on to combat depression and burnout, and it is a path to consider if what your feeling is leading to a decline in your mental health! If you’d like to find out more about becoming a locum tenens, please click here.
Throughout the rest of this month, don’t let your mental health take a back seat. Take the time to figure out the necessary steps you need to consider in order to take care of yourself, or those around you. It’s time to stop allowing such a key topic to go unnoticed or undiscussed. If you are a fellow healthcare worker who is struggling. Find help here.