COMMENTARY

A Med Student's Response to Physician Suicide

Emily Kahoud

Disclosures

August 08, 2019

Self-care Can't Wait

Beyond the numbers—an estimated one completed suicide of a United States physician every day—are the stories of the actual people that these physicians were. The "happy" doctors are often the ones dying, the ones who lit up the room with their warm smiles, who devoted their entire selves to the honorable charge of providing excellent, compassionate care. Pamela Wible, MD, writes, "Doctors are masters of disguise and compartmentalization. Turns out that some of the happiest people—especially those who spend their days making other people happy—may be masking their own despair."

We medical students have to face the facts: If this negative news is really the truth, then caring for oneself cannot wait until tomorrow, or after the boards, or after Match Day. It needs to begin today. A crucial component of that is knowing how to identify a decline in mental health before it morphs into a downward spiral. Also, how to confidentially seek and ask for help, and how to successfully obtain it.

Unfortunately, few may know of or take advantage of easy access to affordable (or even free) resources such as the American Medical Student Association's partnership with Betterhelp.com, which provide counseling with a licensed professional. Students also may not be aware of prophylactic measures such as the American Medical Association's partnership with Headspace, designed to integrate a daily practice of mental health wellness into our lives.

Clearly, such resources will never be curative for systemic ills, but while we work toward—or wait for—the monolithic culture of medicine to change, the best we can do is build up our armament for the journey of expected highs and lows that lie ahead.

As Poorman writes, "When it comes to mental illness and suicide, we are all at risk, but we have too often lacked compassion in the way we approach our colleagues." Perhaps in cultivating compassion by caring for ourselves, compassion for our colleagues will naturally follow.

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