This past Friday there was an article in my local paper about a documentary that highlights doctors with depression and the reasons why they often don’t seek help. The documentary is Struggling in Silence. It was scheduled to be aired on our local PBS station, AETN, on Saturday. I intended to watch it, but missed it. It aired at 5 am on Saturday morning. For some reason, I thought it was to air Saturday evening, so I didn’t even set the VCR. A colleague was interviewed for the documentary. His name is Dr. Robert Lehmberg. He practiced plastic surgery here in Little Rock for years, but retired almost a year ago and is now a hospice and palliative care doctor at UAMS and the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System. I know Dr Lehmberg (and think highly of him), but never realized how he struggled with depression.
The following is from the “Doctors with Depression” website:
Every year, three to four hundred physicians take their own lives — the equivalent of two to three medical school classes. This is an alarming trend in a country focused on increasing the availability and quality of healthcare. Struggling in Silence: Physician Depression and Suicide is a one-hour, high definition public television documentary that sheds light on this hidden and perplexing phenomenon.
Struggling in Silence is part of a nationwide outreach campaign. The aim of the campaign is to explore the professional policies and the culture of stigma that prevent physicians and medical school students from seeking help for the common and treatable mood disorders that can lead to suicide. The campaign will also educate the community at large about mood disorders and medical safety in the hopes of creating a more supportive environment for physicians in treatment.
We have had our share of physician suicides here in Arkansas. In Aug 2004, we had a double tragedy. A third year UAMS medical student died after jumping out of a 10th floor window on the UAMS campus. Later his wife, a neurosurgery resident, was found stabbed to death in their home. It is believed that he killed her prior to jumping to his own death.
That same year (2004) at Christmas, Dr Jonathan Drummond-Webb committed suicide by swallowing prescription painkillers. He was a brilliant Pediatric Cardiac Surgeon at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
The film also mentions how Dr G Richard Smith, chairman of the psychiatry department at UAMS, and colleagues with the Arkansas Psychiatric Society and the Arkansas Medical Society managed to petition our state medical board to change the state licensing procedure to protect the privacy of any physician who is in or has had mental health treatment (check out clip three). This change took place after the three deaths so close together in 2004.
The Arkansas Medical Foundation is here to provide for the identification and treatment of healthcare professionals who suffer from impairment, in order to promote the public health and safety and to insure the continued availability of skill of highly trained medical professionals for the benefit of the public. The AMF was created to oversee the Physician's Health Committee (PHC).