An Update on Physician Depression and Suicide: Shining a Light on a Dark Problem
Many of us were seriously concerned about an anonymous surgery resident who blogs at burntorangescrubs.com. They had written a post titled “Physician Depression and Suicide II” that sounded, frankly, suicidal. Calls went out on Twitter, doctor Facebook groups, and this blog to send messages of support to this suffering soul.
I then followed his blog closely to see if the wave of positive power had a good effect. It was such a huge relief to see him acknowledge all the support with these words a few days later:
“I just want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart. I wish you were all people I worked with. I wish you could all replace the people who make me want to give up and just drop all my equipment with a metallic clatter and walk out of there. […] Maybe I can talk to some of you from here on out. Maybe you’ll walk alongside me on this journey. Maybe you’ll feel sad when you remember something you went through yourself. Maybe we’ll talk a little about it if you feel comfortable enough. I almost want to say I’m sorry that there’s hardly anyone who works with me who offers to listen or even just really cares.”
I’m continuing to follow and offer supportive comments when I can. Meantime, around the same time that these posts were getting attention, an interventional nephrology fellow named Dr. Deelshad Joomun in New York City threw herself off of her thirty-three story building. The third trainee from the same hospital, and the second from the same building, in two years. Physician and mental health advocate Pamela Wible M.D. has been following the situation, and blogged relentlessly about the seemingly hushed response. Her posts “Suicided Doctor: Covered Up With a Tarp– and Silence” and “Doctor Suicide: Where are the Vigils, Cards and Flowers?” garnered media attention, and have opened up a dialogue.
Per Wible as well as reporter/ writer Ashley Alese Edwards, the hospital actively suppressed dialogue around these suicides, sending out memos reminding trainees and staff not to speak to reporters and asking colleagues of the deceased to take down social media posts about their passing. This is outrageous, but is sadly well in keeping with the longstanding culture “suck it up” silence around physician mental health.
Which is all very depressing… Except now, big media is noticing. I heard secondhand that a major daytime television show wants to cover the suicides, and expose the coverups. Then I also received a forwarded request from an investigative reporter, which I’ll share again below, because if anyone has a story to share, now is the time. Let’s call attention to the horrors and harms of medical training. Shine a spotlight on it. Call out the perps. End this bullshit.
I sent this guy an email, and you should too:
DC reporter Patrick.email@example.com wants to hear from residents and doctors who have personally experienced a suicide or mental health crisis to find out how hospitals and “the system” responded.
“I know this is asking a lot. To share a sensitive story with the press is not always the most comfortable thing, so please know anyone who reaches out to us will be in strict confidence unless we request to later include them in a story, which we would only do with their explicit permission. For now, we just are looking to collect experiences to try to identify trends. We know hospitals are likely to tell us they take mental health of their staff quite seriously, and we need to see for ourselves if that’s actually the case. We are hoping to hear from anyone who:
1. Has experienced major mental distress during residency/practice. We’d like to ask them: What if anything did the hospitals have in place to support their mental health, and could they have done anything better? Do they feel the hospitals cared about their well being?
2. Has lost a colleague to suicide. We’d like to ask them: How did the hospitals respond? Did the hospital acknowledge the suicide, and what did they do, if anything, to reach out to colleagues to make sure they were okay? Did it seem like there was a plan?”
Contact reporter via email: Patrick.firstname.lastname@example.org **
Physician depression and suicide: I feel like the sun’s finally sneaking up on this vampire.