Overcome with Compassion: National Physician Suicide Awareness Day 2023

Physicians are often seen as the heroes who work tirelessly to save lives and make the world a healthier place. Behind the white coats and stethoscopes, a hidden crisis exists that we cannot ignore - physician suicide. As we approach National Physician Suicide Awareness Day on September 17th, The Coalition for Physician Well-Being wishes to shed light on this issue that impacts so many of our healthcare clinicians.
Physicians, like the rest of us, have their vulnerabilities and challenges. They are not invincible, despite the superhuman image that often surrounds them. The demands of medical training and practice take a toll, that can lead to overwhelming stress, burnout, and, tragically, suicide. We must address this vital issue with pragmatic warmth and empathy.
In Medscape's Physician Suicide Report of 2023, a comprehensive survey involving over 9,100 physicians revealed alarming findings. Approximately a quarter of the respondents, nearly 25%, admitted to experiencing feelings of depression, while 9% disclosed that they've grappled with thoughts of suicide. Most alarmingly, 1% of the physicians disclosed that they had attempted suicide at some point.
The survey also shed light on the coping mechanisms physicians employ. A significant portion, 38%, indicated that they had sought help by speaking with a therapist about their suicidal thoughts, while 36% confided in a family member. However, it's disheartening to note that 40% of the physicians chose to keep their suicidal thoughts a secret from anyone.
When asked about their reasons for not seeking professional help, some common responses emerged. Some physicians felt that they could manage their struggles independently, while others cited concerns about divulging this information to a medical board. Worries about the potential impact on their insurance records and the fear of colleagues discovering their struggles were also cited as deterrents to seeking help.
National Physician Suicide Awareness Day encourages us to acknowledge the struggles of our physicians. It's a day to remind ourselves that physicians, just like all of us, need our support and understanding. It calls upon the medical community, healthcare institutions, and society to unite in addressing this crisis. This is only one day though, and we all must approach Physician and APP Well-Being as a 365-day yearlong effort.
Offering mental health resources that are readily available is just one part of a complex solution to reduce the suicide rate. Systems and practices should offer comprehensive tools and resources that provide robust mental health support for their staff, including counseling services, stress management programs, and confidential avenues for seeking help. The Coalition for Physician Well-Being increases knowledge sharing and collaboration among practices and institutions, working to erase the stigma surrounding mental health within the medical community. We encourage open conversations, normalizing seeking help, and fostering a culture of support. Sharing best practices in well-being coming together for this common cause.
Finding JOY in the practice of medicine cannot be accomplished by resilience alone – systemically implemented policies that promote work-life balance, reasonable working hours, time off, and support for family responsibilities are of vital importance. The Coalition’s free webinars, podcasts, and the annual national conference (Joy & Wholeness Summit) are designed specifically to educate, offer peer support networking, and increase education and training to ultimately increase provider WHOLENESS. All these initiatives will help curb the alarming percentage of suicidal ideation among our healthcare clinicians.
As National Physician Suicide Awareness Day approaches, all of us at The Coalition sincerely encourage you to embrace warmth, compassion, and understanding. We address the factors contributing to physician suicide, and encourage all of our members and partners to take action. Together, we can create a healthcare system that cares not only for patients, but also for those who care for them. And together, we can shine a light on the solutions that will and encourage a whole, joyful future for physicians everywhere.
Be the Joy!
The Staff and Board of Directors at The Coalition for Physician Well-Being

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