The mental health of physicians is getting new attention since the suicide of a top New York City emergency room doctor who had been treating coronavirus patients.
Lorna Breen's family tells the New York Times that she had contracted the virus as well, but had recovered. They say she didn't have a history of mental illness.
A new hotline is trying to help more doctors who may be struggling right now to manage the pressure and prevent things from getting worse.
The free hotline is called the Physician Support Line.
“Almost all of them start off with, ‘I'm so sorry for taking your time, I'm so sorry for taking this resource,’ and that speaks to that implicit in this of others should be taken care of before me,” said Dr. Mona Masood, co-founder of the Physician Support Line. “We respond back with, ‘this is for you, we're here for you,’ and giving them again that permission that they do matter.”
The founders say the support line is different and a first of its kind because it's peer to peer. It's run by volunteer psychiatrists for any physician across the country. More than 600 psychiatrists have volunteered to take calls.
The founders say coronavirus has exposed the need for this hotline. The current situation is unique for doctors.
“This tension between protecting the patients in general and protecting the family and the community at large is something that we have not experienced before,” said Dr. Smita Gautam, co-founder of the support line.
The founders say the fact that this hotline is anonymous and not affiliated with a certain hospital or group makes doctors feel more willing to use it. They're hopeful this is just the beginning for doctors realizing it's OK to ask for help.
“We want this to go beyond just supporting each other during COVID,” said Dr. Masood. “And we want to see the trajectory of physician mental health being a positive one.”
The physician support line number is 1-888-409-0141. It's available seven days a week from 8 a.m. to midnight EST.
Another important number to have is for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It's 1-800-273-8255.