Like many of you reading this, I know what it feels like to lose someone close to you to suicide. Many are also feeling a combined sense of sadness and awareness following the high-profile suicides of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade. While their worlds are well outside of healthcare, mental health touches us all.
The CDC broke down suicide rates by occupation and found among females, healthcare practitioners are in the top three highest rates. A study out of the U.K. also shows what Americans are seeing which is female nurses are 23 percent more likely to commit suicide than women in general. Among American physicians, it’s no better. One doctor commits suicide every day which makes it the highest suicide rate of any profession.1
While statistics on suicide rates have been gathered and shared for decades, we continue to not have the right conversations to turn the tide.
Address the stress
Clinicians are stressed, but what are we really doing about it? Leaders need to truly take stress into account and start engaging their staff in a way that ease the work load and boost morale. Addressing the stress doesn’t just mean “talk it out.” Yes, we’ve created so many new technologies to help streamline our work flow, but in actuality many studies have found it’s having a negative impact on our mental and physical health. I believe technology can contribute to stress because it leaves care providers disconnected from those they are caring for and each other. We miss out on human interactions that often times remind the care provider about the “why” they choose the profession they did. We also need to keep moving and focus on our physical abilities as the American Nurses Association pointed out in its efforts to improve nurse well-being.
Confront the burnout
Are you actually talking about burnout in your office?
The American Medical Association acknowledges that if the idea of burnout isn’t discussed by those at the very top, staff won’t feel comfortable talking about it, contributing to the volcano of stress that leads to burnout. We need to acknowledge that burnout leads to a negative feeling of self-worth as you feel less accomplished, unable to keep up with your responsibilities and like you’re not making a difference which is the feeling that drives caregivers to do the jobs we do.
Mental illness exists
There’s this idea, especially among physicians, that being diagnosed with mental illness and sharing it with colleagues could negatively impact how you’re viewed by others and ultimately your career. How do we stop the stigma? While high-profile suicides shine light on the reality of mental illness, we’re not talking about how many are actually afflicted. Data from the World Health Organization points to one in four people. One in four. The numbers for caregiver suicides are high and we need to accept and talk about the fact that our fellow care provider could very well be struggling.
Leaders need to be proactive in streamlining workflows, while still engaging staff on a personal level, not just via email. These are the quick actions we can take in what will be and has been a long-term battle to improve the mental health of healthcare professionals.
Your healthcare system can get the resources and education to retain qualified staff and encourage busy caregivers to deliver the best patient care.
1. American Psychiatric Association 2018 annual meeting, May 5, 2018. Deepika Tanwar, MD, psychiatric program, Harlem Hospital Center, New York.