Physician Suicide (Part 2): How do we improve the statistics?

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Like I mentioned in Part 1 of my Blog Series on Physician Suicide, it appears that society forgets that physicians are human too!

It starts in medical school and continues on from there.  Physicians are not expected to have feelings – well, let me state that more accurately – physicians are not supposed to express their feelings (especially when they are frustrated and have “off” days).

Stressed Doctor (Man)It’s taboo to even speak about the troubles one is having in their career and personal life – since physicians are supposed to be invincible.  Like one of my physician clients told me, it’s the attitude of  …

“You have to ‘man up’ for the job and leave all your emotions at the door!

Then you can go home and be depressed.”

Buck up and shut up => how can that be a healthy motto for anyone???

Some of the physicians I spoke to told me that if they even addressed the topic of burnout with their boss, it was seen as a sign of weakness.

It doesn’t surprise me that with this type of approach to handling life’s bumps in the road (and with no outlet and clear cut solutions to addressing this), that some physicians are choosing to take their own lives.  Like some of the physicians I have worked with and interviewed have said …

“It’s the ultimate escape from it all”.

Physicians need to be taught how to take care of their own overall health and well-being from a physical, emotional and spiritual standpoint, and make it just as much of a priority as their patients’ health.  There also needs to be some serious cultural and perception changes within the medical profession in order for profound positive shifts to occur in the lives of physicians.

Taking care of one’s own health and well-being from a physical, emotional and spiritual standpoint seems like it should be a no-brainer, but it’s not something that is part of the mandatory curriculum in medical school and it is definitely not part of a continuing education program within the profession.  It’s just NOT what physicians are trained to do.  There are coping “mind-body” techniques that can be taught which would be invaluable to the physician’s overall mindset and ultimately his or her mental health.

Now, let me makeHappy Doctors - Concerned Female Doctor this very clear – burnout is not the “fault” of the individual.  It’s a side effect of the work environment in which physicians live as well as an unrealistic culture and attitude of “invincible” that is expected … no matter what is going on around them.

There must be more “balance” in each physician’s life in order for the burnout epidemic to diminish.  And that balance starts with a decision and lifestyle choice that each physician has to claim for themselves.

If a physician doesn’t make “balance” one of his of her top priorities then, the mind and body will send you signs that “enough is enough” and “something needs to be done NOW”! But you really don’t want to get to that level of dire need, do you?

One of the physicians I spoke to said that she has a rule with her daughter when she walks through the door … “Don’t talk to Mommy yet!”

Then she told me she “gets out of the craziness” (in her mind), lies down on the couch, turns on music and breathes in positivity, breathes out positivity.

“I need that time to de-stress”, she said.

Without that transition time she said she would turn into the cranky Aretha Franklin in that snickers commercial!

If you are a family member of a physician, give your loved one time to unwind (even if just for 15 minutes).   Give them the space to make that transition from business to personal.   Notice if they are withdrawn, angry for no apparent reason, or starting a pattern of addiction (e.g., when one of my clients first hired me he was coming home to his wife and kids and drinking to “numb the pain” – that’s definitely a warning sign that something needs to change)!

Consider referring them to a Certified Life Coach for Physicians who specializes in working with medical professionals and burnout.  The physicians who hire me like the anonymity of the coaching process.  It’s not through an EAP program or through their hospital and it doesn’t have to be logged in with their healthcare provider.  Since there is still the belief of “reaching out for help is a sign of weakness”, there is more reluctance in the medical profession to see a professional “on the record”.   That being said, a psychologist skilled at handling physicians and burnout issues is also another resource that can be tapped into.

Therein lies one of the problems … reaching out for help is viewed as a sign of weakness.  Even if we started with just shifting that mindset in the medical profession, lives could be saved.

Reaching out for help is actually a sign of strength and courage.

It’s important to note that when I asked the physicians I interviewed “How would your family or close friends know if you are experiencing burnout symptoms”, most of them said “they are clueless” or “they wouldn’t know”.

As one physician said … “I have to hide those symptoms and seek outside help if the symptoms are more than I can handle.

Bottom line, physicians have to recognize that they need the help and feel comfortable to take that first step to ask for it.  And there is some work to be done in order to make this an easier and more acceptable action step that a physician would take when the warning signs show up.  And I am on a mission to make that happen.

Here’s my gift to the medical profession to start that process.  I would like to invite any physician, who is experiencing any of the frustration that I described in this article, to request a complimentary Rx for Physician Burnout Breakthrough Session with me by clicking here.   Like one physician told me after their breakthrough session … “this session was the pivotal point for my change of attitude.”

It only takes one courageous action step to turn the course of your life around!

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