Concerns about the mental health of physicians and frontline medical workers

Physician suicide rate a "silent epidemic"
Posted at 11:11 AM, Sep 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-29 20:40:57-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Slowly our communities are starting to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic, but in our hospitals the stress level remains high. News5 looked into the work and conversations going on to help our physicians and frontline medical workers who face a serious risk of burnout and even suicide.

During the last few years physicians and frontline medical workers have been some of the most vulnerable people to suicide. It's why some of our local medical workers spent time literally take steps to remind themselves and their colleagues that asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness.

"Suicide is actually an occupational hazard for physicians. It's an epidemic and a silent epidemic," said UCHealth physician Dr. Robert Lam.

A group of physicians, friends and family are spending time running and walking 400 miles. A mile for each doctor suicide in the U.S. last year.

"I actually had a colleague that died by suicide and I've her carried her story with me over the years," said Lam. "As I became more and more interested in wellness I've actually realized that suicide is actually one of the most preventable causes of death."

Preventable, but in the medical field, these tragedies are all too common. You may remember back in April 49-year-old emergency room doctor Lorna Breen died by suicide while trying to help COVID-19 patients in New York. Her brother-in-law spoke with News5 about what he and his family learned.

"What our health care heroes and our front line heroes need to recognize right now is before they were heroes they were human," said J. Corey Feist, Breen's brother in-law. "Lorna was a human just like the rest of us. She was an amazing aunt to eight wonderful nieces and nephews. She was an avid snowboarder and she traveled the world. She was highly skilled at her profession and everything she did was with that in mind. There were stories of her saving lives of individuals in airports who fell down and collapsed. What folks need to understand is that this can happen to anyone and it can happen as fast as it did with Lorna."

"We don't want to ask for help. It is seen as a sign of weakness. There's fear against retaliation against your ability to practice medicine if you are suffering from a mental health condition," said Lam.

This is where lawmakers can help break the stigma and improve the environment for our healthcare workers to stay mentally fit.

"Every time a doctor fills out a form to obtain state licensure they have questions about their mental health that help reinforce the stigma around mental health and seeking help is one thing they need to just avoid and so they don't get help," said Feist.

The mental health experts working to help our local health care workers say they are seeing a positive shift, even during this challenging time.

"When I round every day, I try to touch base with staff members and they've been quite open in sharing their concerns which I don't think was happening so much in the past," said UCHealth behavioral health expert Michele Armstrong. "So I do think we've made some improvement."

The pandemic has added even more challenges to an already high-stress profession. While our doctors continue to be at high risk for mental health challenges those in the profession say they believe change is happening.

"I think we all wanted COVID to go away, but unfortunately we're still here. It's still here and still with us. it's still affecting us on a day-to-day basis," said Dr. Lam. "I think that the silver lining of the pandemic is it has broken down some of the barriers to actually talk about suicide and talk about the depression and isolation that we're all feeling right now."

Remember, you don't have to be a mental health expert to assist someone who is struggling. Sometimes it just comes down to knowing the resources and being able to connect that person with an expert who can help.

Mental health resources for physicians and medical workers:

Mental health resources for other specific populations and the general public:

Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention
Free and confidential support groups for adults and adolescents with thoughts or actions toward suicide. Support groups for family members of attempters. Children Left Behind by Suicide: weekly grief support groups for youth who have lost someone to suicide.
Phone: (719) 573-7447
Address: 704 N. Tejon St, Colorado Springs 80903

Colorado Crisis Services (24 hour hotline)Phone: (844) 493–TALK (8255)Text: "TALK" to 38255Site:

Monthly support groups for adults who have lost someone to suicide from 7-9pm on the first Tuesday of each month.
Location: East Methodist Church, 1505 E. Monument St, 80903Phone: (719) 337-6640Site: www.heartbeatsurvivorsaftersuicide.org___

Aspen Pointe Lighthouse Phone: (719) 572-6340___

Self-Injury HotlinePhone: (800) 366-8288). {800-DONT-CUT}

Suicide Prevention (National)Phone: (800) 273-TALK (8255)

The Trevor Project
The only national 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention lifeline for LGBTQ young people (ages 13-24).
Phone: (866) 488-7386
Text: "TREVOR" to (202) 304-1200
Site: www.thetrevorproject.org___

National Veterans Crisis Line
Phone: (800) 273-8255 /press 1

Vets 4 Warriors
(answered 24/7 by veterans) Phone: (855) 838-8255

Phone: (877) 542-SAFE (7233)___

Peak Military Care Network
Extensive directory of all local services, and state and national resources, for veterans, active-duty personnel, National Guard and Reserve members, and their families.Phone: (719) 955-0742Site:

Military 1 Source
(a hub for all military-related services) Phone: (800) 342-9647