First published May 12, 2017
Like many in the medical world, I’ve been deeply saddened by the suicide of a Brisbane gastroenterologist, the father of four children, the husband of a loving wife.
I don’t know them personally, but am touched by the email that his wife wrote and son sent online- which has triggered a flood of goodwill from his patients (the Facebook comments on the CourierMail post are so heartening) and from other health professionals and members of the public, who, like me, may not have known him personally, but felt devastated by this very unnecessary loss.
So what can we do? How do we stop others from thinking the only way out is suicide?
What’s the worst that could happen if you choose NOT to die?
Your patients may be looked after by other colleagues, or will find other specialists.
Your family will be concerned and worried about you, but they will be happier that you’re taking time to recover.
Your colleagues will most likely be concerned about you too, not mean-spirited. (If they are, why choose to work with them or choose to listen to them? What do they know about who you really are?)
Maybe part of it is our fear of delegating responsibility for our patients to others when we’re too crushed or sick to continue. Handover is so complex- even more as a consultant in private practice for many years. You would have built strong relationships with some of your patients who’ve grown with you; with your staff; with your routine. You would know their test results and the dates of their treatments off by heart.
And of course, when a patient dies, it is never easy.
Just because you’ve dealt with a patient’s demise or deterioration over and over again during the years, it doesn’t mean your feelings will be bulletproof forever.
And then, you also may fear delegating the responsibility of your struggles to others, to psychologists, to counsellors, to psychiatrists, or to a friend who’s a listening ear.
You’re good at curing patients. Why can’t you cure yourself?
You’re feeling enormous responsibility. Why burden others with that terrible weight?
There’s so much blame in medicine. We constantly want to be better. It’s the mark of a true professional, a craftsperson even in other professions. You want to better yourself.
But even doctors are only human.
Maybe we think it’s the absolute end, there’s no way out if we step back for a few days, weeks, months, years- it’s too terrifying at that moment to deal with the enormity of a future you don’t know.
We try too hard to control our futures and our patients’ futures, but as doctors and health professionals, and even startup founders, even we can’t control everything.
Maybe it’s time to recognise that and embrace it as something positive we can learn to live with.
But don’t do it alone.
Please seek help, no matter what your journey is.
Condolences and respects to Dr Bryant and his family.
People may look like they’re doing okay on the outside, but are actually screaming for help inside. Please be kind to each other and ask directly, “are you okay?”
Some useful sites/resources in Australia if you’re seeking help or contemplating suicide:
– R U OK? suicide prevention
– Victorian Doctors Health Program (please reach out even if you’re not living in the state, people are always happy to suggest other resources)
– your GP
– a psychologist
– a counsellor
– the AMA, which has other links to Drs4Drs which lists resources for Doctors in each State/Territory, and other sites; and the Australasian Doctors NetworkAustralasian Doctors Network which advocates for doctors’ health.
– Lysn, a provider of online video calls to a psychologist
– your work’s Employee Assistance Program (many public and private companies including public hospitals in Australia, possibly in your country too, offer this free confidential service through external providers. The RACP also offers this, and probably other fellowship colleges do, too. Don’t be afraid to ask your HR or Workforce managers about this; it’s your right as an employee, and they are human, too, and know everyone goes through stuff.)
Feel free to list other resources you’ve found helpful below in the Comments.