Implementing solutions physicians deserve for mental health and wellbeing

In commemoration of National Physicians Suicide Awareness Day, The Physicians Foundation, Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation, and #FirstRespondersFirst collaborated to raise awareness and promote fundamental changes in how society views physician mental health and burnout rates, according to a Sept. 15 news release.

The COVID-19 pandemic took a significant toll on physicians' mental health, according to a study from the National Library of Medicine. However, 8 in 10 physicians reported a stigma surrounding mental health and seeking mental healthcare among physicians. Additionally, only 31 percent of physicians believe suicide prevention resources for physicians exist and are easy to use, according to the release. 

President of The Physicians Foundation, Gary Price, MD, said there has not been any change in physician burnout in the past year. Noting that at 62 percent, it remains significantly higher than the 40 percent recorded in pre-pandemic times. 

"Physician burnout has not gone unnoticed by our profession or by society, and yet there is still stigma surrounding mental health care, underlying system barriers and a lack of solutions in action to address them," Dr. Price said. 

The 2022 Survey of America's Physicians found that confidential therapy, counseling, or support phone lines were most effective, with 65 percent of respondents indicating that it supported their mental health and well-being. Peer-to-peer support groups were also noted as effective, with 57 percent rating them as the most helpful resource among physicians who had experience with the resource. Furthermore, nine workplace solutions were identified by 70 percent to 89 percent of physicians as helpful, including removing low-value work, ensuring adequate mental health care outside of Employee Assistance Programs, and giving physicians more flexibility and autonomy.

Shekhar Saxena, MD, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health professor and mental health subject matter expert for #FirstRespondersFirst, said that there is no excuse for not acting on the issue. 

"With physicians having one of the highest suicide rates of any profession, we must do more to get the mental health resources in their hands and wellbeing workforce solutions implemented in every practice environment," Dr. Saxena said.

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