Preventing Suicides: Mental Health for the Physician

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In the face of alarming rates of physician suicide, some hospitals have taken steps to support the mental well-being of their physicians. One pediatric oncologist from Canada details how one hospital moved forward following a heart-breaking surge in suicides among local doctors.

Many years ago, three physician suicides occurred within the same time frame, all in young physicians at the beginning of their career. This led our hospital to organize a Mental Health Symposium Day.

The Mental Health Symposium Day, lunch, cocktail reception, and dinner were free for medical staff, as a gesture of thanks from Administration. At the Symposium, a Keynote Speaker, a psychiatrist, gave a talk about the causes of physician suicides, “silent & undetected cries for help”, and subtle signs of depression. A panel of experts discussed preventive and remedial measures. Breakout groups allowed physicians to share their experiences, discuss their sorrow, and talk about their feelings of guilt and helplessness. The leaders of the breakout groups then summarized their findings & suggestions in a General Discussion Period chaired by a mediator.

The Staff & Fellow Physician Association started a Physicians’ Night. This was a dinner meeting at which senior staff socialized with younger staff and fellows. At the meeting, a 1-800-HELP4ME line that was set up by the hospital was introduced, for physicians to talk over their problems privately, and be advised of the available help. Also at the meeting, a group of senior staff volunteered to provide help on a one-to-one basis as Big Sisters & Big Brothers if they were contacted privately.

The medical staff recommended setting up the Mental Health Symposium Day & the Physicians’ Night as annual events.

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