Addressing the Issues
The formation of Doc U R originates from the implied stigmas, debilitating biases and discrimination physicians face when bettering their mental health needs. According to the American Medical Association, Physicians have the highest suicide rate of any profession, even the military. Medical students and residents are more likely to die by suicide compared to their age-based peers. Anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other psychiatric illnesses are occupational hazards overlooked, undermined, and undertreated. Too many times, physicians fail to seek treatment and voice their grievances and self medicate due to the inability of the systems in place to recognize physician suicide and the complications of failing to address mental health significances as a public health crisis within the community.
A Public Health Crisis
Mental illness, burnout, and suicide ideations are widespread in physicians and medical training organizations. Due to these facts, substance abuse, self-medicating, and suicide are prevalent amongst medical students, residents, and seasoned physicians. Long-standing evidence infers that those who elect to pursue a career in medicine are at high risk for suicide. About 300-400 doctors die by suicide yearly, which is approximately one physician a day. The physician suicide rate is 28-40/100,000, more than double that of the general population, 12.3/100,000.
These stats are approximate without adequate and comprehensive analyses. Reasonable studies are lacking due to the stigmas and repercussions physicians encounter. Physicians struggling with mental illnesses are linked to increased medical errors, reduced quality of care, patient dissatisfaction, reduced productivity, and perhaps most costly, staff turnover. These fateful outcomes do not solely lie within the medical community, but also with loved ones, family and friends; and the community at large.
- In 2020, it is computed that $280 billion will be spent on mental health alone in the US.
- For each primary physician, it is estimated to cost an organization nearly $1.3 million per year in lost revenues and recruitment.
- Physican suicide leads to 1 million patients lost per physican.
- For every $1 spent on Physician Well Being Resources, organizations save $20-$40.
While there is an increased acceptance that focusing on physician mental health is vital for the individual, community and institutions, there needs to be more avenues for physicians to find reprieve and destress.
Barriers to Improving Outcomes
However great the statics prove to be, physician mental health is barely studied and suicide poorly understood. More data has been reported on resident and medical student depression and burnout rates than trained doctors. There is a shortage of studies that have evaluated mental health comorbidities and psychological factors and limited investigative work, including prevention-based analysis.
Physicians also fail at identifying depression and mental health illnesses within themselves and amongst their colleagues, peers, and loved ones. Physicians live with the constant ideation of perfectionism and the fear of shame and rejection within their communities, retaliation from the licensing board, and feelings of inadequacy to uphold their professional obligations if vocal about their mental health illness(s). There is a lack of autonomy and collectivism, and most physicians feel as if they are hopeless and alone and find it difficult to cope.
Time is also an essential factor. With schedules barely allowing for lunch breaks, most physicians find it hard to get appointments during regular business hours or close enough to where they reside and work. Physicians also face challenges when being seen as the patient and endure complicated efforts to protect their confidentiality. Furthermore, there is speculation that suicide rates are higher than that reported because physician suicide may be miscoded on death certificates, sometimes deliberately so.
A Focus on Female Physicians
Female physicians are more at risk for anxiety, depression, and burnout than their male counterparts, leading to disastrous outcomes. With an increase in women in the medical field, they are becoming more susceptible to stressors.
- Depression affects an estimated 12% of male doctors and up to 19.5% of female doctors.
- Burnout affects physicians at a rate of 45% for women and 37% for men.
- Male doctors have suicide rates as much as 40% higher than the general population, and female doctors up to 130% higher.
- Although female doctors attempt suicide far less often than women in the general population, their completion rate exceeds that of the general population by 5 to 4 times.
- Female physicians have higher rates of alcohol abuse than women in the general population.
- Other factors, including marriage, maybe a protective factor for men; some studies report it is not for women.
Women doctors face unique circumstances that impact them considerably more than their counterparts. Not only should we focus on bettering mental health, but also addressing the difficulties influencing women in medicine.
Some days I am a goddess. Some days I am a wild child. And some days I am a fragile mess. Most days I am a bit of all three. But every day, I am here, trying. -S.C. Lourie
Doc U R aims to develop an online social platform for women doctors to communicate, share personal stories, utilize art therapy, and build communities. Art in all forms is shown to heal and provide relatability, commonality, and a safe space for all involved. Feelings of being isolated, as if no one is willing to help, no one cares, or are experiencing the same difficulties and far worse, suicidal ideations. Having a community and receiving vital information for us, by us, can change the narrative for all those involved.
Art in all forms has been researched and shown to heal in a myriad of ways and provide relatability, commonality, and a safe space for all involved. This platform enables women to socialize and network to create social support, mentorships, partnerships, and sustaining relationships and opportunities.
Furthermore, honoring those that have died by suicide with stories shared by survivors will open the door to healing and even more excellent support. Likewise, open dialogues will elevate the recognition of suicide, decrase false reporting and find more meaningful ways to prevent suicide and support those affected. Normalizing mental illness and acknowledging its outcomes is important to allow the healers to fully heal; not just for the sake of the individual or medical community, but overall.
Lastly, by incorporating digital health with an online resource center and access to mental health practitioners and other healthcare personnel, flexibility will be granted suitable to their schedule. To increase accessibility and save time, physicians, based on their subscription, will be matched with a provider based on need or have access to the database to choose on their own.
All components combined, Doc U R aims to be a one-stop shop for physicians to focus on their mental health desires and feel heard and appreciated. Moreover, with information collected combined with advocacy to change regulations, opportunities for promising and feasible research can be conducted and implemented. Doc U R will change the narrative preventing physicians from lasting solutions and impeding the barriers to sufficient care and treatment for their mental health needs. Overall, there will be professional healing and personal growth.