Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Doctors with Depression

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.

I would encourage you to check the website for when the film might be aired in your area or to purchase the video/DVD.

More importantly, if you are “suffering in silence”, please, seek help.  In Arkansas, the Arkansas Medical Foundation is a great place to start.  Contact information can be found on their website.

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).

13 comments:

enrico said...

Thanks for posting this--I had no idea this had been produced. For those who are don't follow links, there is a supplemental DVD for sale at their website that does cover medical student issues specifically.

Bongi said...

the show must go on.

Chrysalis Angel said...

Excellent post, Ramona!!! This isn't discussed enough. I wonder if it's that your always taught to suck it up and do the job at hand or that you know yourselves the unfortunate stigma that goes with any psychiatric diagnosis. Physicians need to get the help they deserve. They are human too, and sometimes they have had to be witness to some of the worst events imaginable, just as those of us that worked on ambulances have had to carry. They need to recognize within themselves when it's time to reach out. It's hard to do when you are the one always caring for others, but do it - save yourself.

Angela Foster said...

There are so many people who have negative thoughts and are plagued by negative thinking. These negative thoughts create fear, suicidal thoughts, anger, and agitation and there is seemingly no apparent reason for these thoughts to occur. Everyone who has this habit must try to learn how to stop it and must try to bring on a more positive way of thinking. http://www.xanax-effects.com/

fairystar said...

i've wanted to see that special on pbs ever since i heard about it this past summer.

i'm a medical student with severe recurrent depression. i've been in and out of medical school now for 8years if you include the 3 years i left med school and decided to simply join the "real world" and work in no other than an orthopaedic surgeon's office.

i can't even begin to explain to you how distracting depresssion can be to students. not only do we have to deal with the pressure of being in medical school, but then we have to hide the illness that effects every single area of our lives including our ability to concentrate....something very important for any student.

i suppose i can only speak for myself. i want nothing more than to help others as a pediatrician one day. i don't want to sound like a dreamer but i've wanted nothing more than to volunteer in africa and india and help children in underserved communities of the US. i've wanted this for as long as i can remember!

depression has gotten in the way of my dreams so many times!!! i have creative ideas for a holistic pediatric practice that i hope to one day open. if and when i do make it through med school, i want to be able to diagnose depression in children and young adults early on so that they will never have to experience what i have.

for ex.just last year when it came time for me to take my boards i had fallen into another major depressive episode. this time i couldn't get out of bed for months. i scheduled numerous appointments with a therapist but was so down that i couldn't even show up! needless to say i wasn't even being treated when i should have!! i was paralyzed in anxiety, fear, and i don't know what else b/c it's so hard to describe how heavy my heart feels when i get that way. i had already registered for Step 1 because of my school's strict deadlines.

i decided to ask school for an extension so that i could try and pick myself up and study what i could in order to pass this exam. they made it extremely difficult. i had to write a formal letter stating why i needed this extra month. i knew not to bother telling them about my condition b/c it would only work against me. afterall i couldn't make it in to see a therapist so i had no evidence to present them with. it would be my word against theirs and i knew they wouldn't believe me. so i told them that i hadn't finished reviewing all of the info i needed to in order to pass my exam.
well, they denied my request anyway and i had no choice but to walk into that exam cold. of course i failed it miserably.

i'm now in between medical schools. when i apply to a new school i will not dare tell them the real reason why i failed my exam b/c i know they will consider me a liability rather than someone with potential to make a difference in this world.

i know from experience that depression sufferers are not treated the same way that people with other pathological conditions are. a student with diabetes for example is treated with respect, dignity, and even compassion while the person who suffers from depression is looked upon as someone who can't handle the pressure, who's simply not strong enough for this field, someone with a weak character, and someone who is too sensitive and compassionate.

a great many students i have encountered have judged those who suffer from depression, writing it off as a character flaw. it's beyond frustrating and saddens me to no end that people don't respect and treat this disorder like all others.

i just hope and pray that one day depression and other mental health disorders will be viewed the way so many other pathological conditions are...as the diseases of biological origin that they are.

rlbates said...

Fairystar, I hope you are seeing someone now (during a time when you can function) so that maybe you can avoid the extreme lows. Treat your depression as if it were hypertension or diabetes. In other words, as if it has to be treated daily and long term and not just during the lows. Best wishes. Take care.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for posting this. I´m a surgery resident. I put off dealing with my depression through med school and undergrad and it´s finally come to the point where I´ve taken time off work to treat it. It´s hard not to feel like a failure for doing this. Thank you for the post.

rlbates said...

Anon, best wishes to you in your struggle.

Chrysalis Angel said...
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Chrysalis Angel said...
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Chrysalis Angel said...

Sorry for all the corrections. I need to slow it down when I write. None the less, please hear the message.

Anonymous, you're not a failure in knowing it was time to reach out. That is making a plan for success, every bit as much as how you planned and worked for your career path.

How much more compassion you will have in the future when your patients come to you, or you recognize it in them. You will be an asset in what ever walk of life you are in.

Hang on, and take care of you for now. Best wishes to you.

Anonymous said...

I'm a UK physician. The problems with depression in the medical profession is equally as bad over here - unfortunately it remains a taboo subject. Colleagues who have suffered have been ostracized - no wonder they try to keep quiet. I have a particular interest in studying mental illness amongst doctors. Yes, you've guessed it I have suffered depression on and off from med school times. When I was well I flew through medical duties, exams etc. Then I would catastrophically dip and flunk everything, sit in the pub a 2pm after lying in bed all morning. Drove the med school authorities mad. I think the key is to accept we are human and are not perfect. To accept that in this increasingly stressful age being a doctor is only a part of who we are and not the whole. Realise our limitations and accept that we can not be all things to all people and will never please everyone.

Anonymous said...

I have struggled with depression since being a sophmore in college and possibly before then. It took 10 years for me finally get the help I needed. In that 10 year period I was able to graduate from medical school and make it half way through my emergency Medicine residency before I started getting help. Initially I tried just counseling but what I found was most helpful and made the biggest difference to me was taking medication in conjunction with counseling. I have found that healing a depression takes time , eventhough I started feeling much better shortly after deciding to get treatment. I have occasionally tried to stop taking medication but have found myself having relapses, so at this point I am greatful for the treatments available , and have been able to finish my residency, finish a military obligation and have practiced for 12 years. I have always disclosed that I have depression on hospital/professional applications, but I have not been open at all with my colleagues with my struggles because I definitely feel the stigma