The very recent loss of a young colleague to depression and suicide totally threw me. Why would a young person with such amazing potential and stamina suddenly take their own life and end what could have been a brilliant career? Is there something we could have done to prevent this? Are there others in training or working in Medical Practice (like myself) who are struggling alone with depression, lack of fulfillment in their careers and personal lives or other mental health issues? Why don’t I know more about this?
So I went digging for information on this taboo topic only to unearth what looks like a mammoth of a problem that we all seem to ignore or pretend doesn’t exist. IT BROKE MY HEART. So many stories of this silent struggle; of pain, anguish and loneliness that pushes colleagues to drugs or alcohol abuse, risk-seeking behavior and even suicide. I came across dozens of articles on Physician Depression and Suicide. As in it is an actual thing! With a name!
WHAT ARE WE DOING WRONG?
Med school and Residency were HELL for most of us. I still carry around my own internal, invisible scars from the brutality of medical training, but somehow I adjusted and survived. Or at least, it looks like I did. Internship on its own took the torture to a whole other level and damn well nearly broke even the best of us. But again, we survived, albeit properly scarred, and we seem to have moved on to live normal, healthy, balanced lives. But is it all a facade?
In my day, (look at me sounding like I’m 75!) those who fell by the wayside ie. turned to drinking or drugs, quit the program or repeated a few years along the way were regarded as weaklings to be banished from the group and left behind without further thought. How horrible right?! This compounded the problem because it made it impossible to confide in someone when you felt yourself struggling. It made admitting to having a problem carry a stigma that only made the situation even more unbearable. So it silenced us. Left us to struggle internally. After all, a Doctor is supposed to be loud and proud, strong, brilliant and unbreakable.
I’ve sat in silence for a long time feeling paralyzed and wondering if I should even attempt to tackle this issue on a public forum such as this blog. Is it all too much for one person to handle? Where do I even start? Surely there are colleagues out there who are better placed than myself to deal with this issue.
But wait. Who else is talking about it? Who can I point at and blame if another young colleague chooses to end their life due to the unbearable pressure put on us in the course of our training? How would I defend myself and my silence then?
So I’m stepping up and taking the time to talk about this issue. I’m calling on fellow colleagues as well to join me in finding actual practical solutions within our own learned community. I’m also calling upon junior colleagues who may be struggling with seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel to please reach out, NOW.
Over the next few posts, I’ll attempt to look into the contributing factors that have led our community to such a difficult place. I’ll reach out to experts in the field to help propose solutions and attempt to fix the cracks we’ve ignored for so long. I’ll also try to “grow a pair” and open up. Share MY personal struggles.
Please, I urge you to reach out and contribute to this discussion where you can. If you are open to sharing with others, I will publish your personal experiences, challenges, words of encouragement, and ideas for solutions (in confidence if you prefer)
Finally, I beg you to reach out if you’re struggling or you know someone who is. If you can’t find any reason to continue on with your own personal struggle because it all seems too bleak. Please, reach out. Don’t do anything drastic or final just yet. We’ll help in whichever way we can.
Confidentiality is guaranteed.
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