Healthbeat: Physicians have highest suicide rate of any profession


KINGSTON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Thursday marked National Physician Suicide Awareness Day. It drew attention to the fact, physicians have the highest suicide rate of any profession, yet they often find themselves unable to cope with burnout or thoughts of suicide.

Dr. Lorna Breen was a 1988 graduate at Wyoming Seminary in Kingston. She became the face of physician burnout after she ended her life during the height of the pandemic in April.

While being a physician has always been considered a stressful career, a new report indicates just how much so, and what action needs to be taken to ease the crisis.

By all accounts, Dr. Breen exemplified all of the best qualities of a physician. But she found herself overwhelmed by the COVID-19 crisis, even contracting the virus herself while serving as head of a New York City Hospital Emergency Department.

“She had seen death and dying before, but never of this magnitude and certainly not while she was trying to recover from the pandemic herself. She kept showing up day after day. All she cared about was taking care of her patients until she literally could no longer stand,” said Adam Feist, the brother-in-law of Dr. Breen.

Dr. Breen became a statistic of physician burnout which is blamed for 400 physician suicides last year.

A new report by the physicians foundation shows doctor burnout jumped from 40 percent to 58 percent during this year of the coronavirus crisis.

“Frustrating issues have simply not been managed and that leads to a feeling of hopelessness or depersonalization, a feeling of ineffectiveness and a distancing,” said Dr. Gary Price, M.D., president of The Physicians Foundation.

His foundation launched the awareness campaign Vital Signs, and came up with a way to detect physician burnout by using the acronym HEART.

“The ‘H’ is for health. The ‘E’ is for emotions. The ‘A’ is for attitude. The ‘R’ is for relationships and the ‘T’ is for temperament,” said Dr. Breen.

Physicians have the highest suicide rate of any profession, and surviving families and communities who suffer want it to stop.

“From the moment that my wife and I tried to shine a light on Lorna’s death, it was never just about Dr. Breen. It was about all those healthcare heroes,” Mr. Feist said.

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