Conference Coverage

What brought me back from the brink of suicide: A physician’s story


 

A real gift

Whenever Dr. Myers hears stories about doctors who died by suicide or who have written about their mental health struggles to help others, he contacts them. One goal of his own writing and of the conference sessions he organizes is to make it easier for others to share their own stories.

“I tell them, first of all, their courage and honesty is a real gift, and they’re saving lives,” he said. “There are so many suffering doctors out there who think that they’re the only one.”

Public conversations such as those that occurred in the APA session also offer opportunities to share advice, including Dr. Myers’ recommendation that doctors be sure they have a primary care physician of their own.

Many don’t, he says, because they say they are too busy, they can treat their own symptoms, or they can self-refer to specialists when needed. But physicians don’t always recognize symptoms of depression in themselves, and when mental health problems arise, they may not seek help or treat themselves appropriately.

A primary care physician can be the first person to recognize a mental health problem and refer a patient for mental health care, said Dr. Myers, whose latest book, “Becoming a Doctors’ Doctor: A Memoir,” explores his experiences treating doctors with burnout and other mental health problems.

Whether they have a primary care doctor or not, he suggests that physicians talk to anyone they trust – a social worker, a religious leader, or a family member who can then help them find the right sort of care.

In the United States, around-the-clock help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. A psychiatrist-run hotline specifically for physicians is available at 888-409-0141. “Reach out and get some help,” Dr. Myers said. “Just don’t do it alone.”

Dr. Lynes advocates setting boundaries between life and work. He has also benefited from writing about his experiences. A blog or a diary can help physicians process their feelings, he said. His 2016 essay marked a major turning point in his life, giving his life meaning in helping others.

“Since I wrote that article, I can’t tell you how much better I am,” he said. “Now, I’m not embarrassed to be around physicians. I actually consider myself a physician. I didn’t for many, many years. So, I’m doing pretty well.”

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.

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