Physicians are people of good will, dedicating their lives in the pursuit of healing others. The challenge is that many doctors neglect their own health, and consequently they struggle to help their colleagues in need. If I were to write a letter to doctors as a peer with bipolar disorder, it would read something like this:
My dear peers,
Your colleagues are in trouble and need you more than you might imagine. Ask yourselves how you might be more helpful to those of us who are currently unwell. We must do more to make their journey one that is safer and easier for them. We all march forward when those who have been suffering in silence speak out. But that is only half the solution. It is too heavy a lift for those of us with mental health conditions to push this heavy rock up the hill by ourselves.
Share your thoughts
Please don’t underestimate how impactful your words or a hug might be. I spoke with a colleague years ago, sharing my story and her response was simply to give me a hug. It was exactly the nourishment I needed. For any given clinician, it can be daunting to know how to shift the current status quo of secrecy and silence in regard to the prevalence of psychiatric disorders within our medical community. I would ask you to merely look in front of you each day. You are skilled practitioners, perceptive in assessing those of us who are unwell. You know who is struggling.
Remember, we change the culture of secrecy one conversation at a time. Dare to ask your friends and your peers how they are. Most of the time they will welcome this because they know it comes from the heart. Have the fortitude to find your voice and in response, they will too. If we don’t put our compassion into words, our silence can be heard by those who suffer as “you do not exist.” We may ask you at times, to lift us up. Please, consider using the decency and concern that you possess. You have chosen a vocation in which you heal others, so train your heartfelt focus toward healing those of us in need.
The topic of physician health is increasingly rising to the surface in our community given the concerns about physician burnout and the evident morbidity and mortality that afflicts us. Given the conversations we are now having (and my good friend and colleague who gave me a hug), I have faith that we can summon our courage and shift the current avoidant stasis You colleagues and friends are waiting for you to do so. Please, reach out your hand.
How might your letter be similar or different?