By Matt Kuhrt
The American medical profession loses an average of 300 to 400 physicians to suicide each year, but despite increased focus on residents' and fellows' mental health, the stigma surrounding depression and burnout continues to inhibit efforts to mitigate the situation, according to an article at Healthcare Dive.
Despite efforts aimed at identifying the characteristics that contribute to suicide risk, the stigma surrounding mental illness discourages doctors from getting help, a problem especially pronounced among young professionals according to previous reporting by FiercePracticeManagement.
An unnamed medical student in a story published by Inside Higher Ed describes her struggle to find enough time in her packed schedule to find counseling. "You're encouraged to maximize your study time and to keep pushing yourself," she said. "You think you have to 'suck it up.'"
Some institutions have responded with curriculum changes aimed at easing the burden on students' mental health. Changes implemented at Saint Louis University School of Medicine in 2009 resulted in a significant drop in levels of depression and anxiety, according to Healthcare Dive. Nevertheless, Associate Dean for Curriculum Stuart Slavin, M.D., indicated to the publication that stigma still represents a problem.
Growing awareness and continued discussion of the problem have spurred calls for additional support structures and the development of best practices for encouraging physicians' mental well-being. These include the American Medical Association's recently launched STEPS Forward program, which Emily Holmes, M.D., a psychiatric resident at UNC Healthcare, sees as a mixed bag. While it establishes physician well-being as a measure of quality, residents' work schedules make some of the program's recommendations "admirable but unrealistic," Dr. Holmes told Healthcare Dive.