|Story of a HCW with experiences of suicide/ideation|
|Title of article/video/paper etc. ||Title: Sadly, She Felt There Was Nothing She Could Do: A Reflection on the Tragic Suicide of Physician Dr. Laura Breen|
Published in: The Canadian Journal of Theology Mental Health and Disability 1 no. 1, Spring 2021, Invited Commentary.
This is an invited commentary on the suicide of New York physician Dr. Laura Breen. The author Jane Smith-Eivemark addresses Dr. Breen’s increased intensity of workload due to COVID-19, feelings of not doing enough/ feeling not enough and ultimately a deflated sense of purpose that tragically took her life.
|1. Introduce the person/people of relevance.||Dr. Laura Breen worked at the emergency department at the New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital as a physician, until April 2020. COVID-19 was at its peak in New York City at the time. Dr. Breen herself got infected with the virus and recovered before returning to work. It was when she realized that the health care sector could not keep up and she could not do more as a physician when so much was needed, she felt broken down.|
|2. Describe the struggles that the people/person of relevance had to go through. ||“Dr. Breen was not her “unflappable” self”“She also felt that she was not aware of herself”|
Dr. Breen had called her sister and brother-in-law Jennifer and Corey Feist earlier in April 2020 and communicated her struggles with mental health:
“..she “couldn’t get out of her chair.” Her sister had a friend of Breen’s drive her from New York to Philadelphia, where a high school friend picked her up and took her to Baltimore.
Jennifer Feist met her sister there and brought her straight to the emergency room at UVA Health in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she stayed for 11 days. She then moved in with the Feists this past weekend before dying by suicide at their Charlottesville home on Sunday.”
|3. How have these struggles affected their mental wellbeing?||Dr. Breen’s main struggle was not being able to help the patients enough, as the workload was “drowning”:“She said it was like Armageddon,” Jennifer Feist said. “She said, ‘There are so many sick people everywhere.’|
“She said, ‘People are just dying in the waiting room before they even get in. There aren’t enough hookups for the oxygen to help them. They’re not getting admitted fast enough. We can’t keep up.'”
These struggles made her feel broken, low and hard to cope with. These feelings in turn troubled her because it is tough for physicians to see themselves as unwell. As health care workers, the notion of being responsible for their patients’ wellbeing is ingrained, so there is limited room to express coping difficulties:
“They are meant, by their own understanding and educational processes, to be treating others’ state of health to the point of being ultimately responsible for their patient’s well-being. Being a physician is saying “yes” to being a “god” in certain ways, says my colleague who is a palliative care physician.”
With COVID-19, there was even more workload to handle than normal. There were several things that were beyond the scope of HCWs’ capacities (e.g insufficient hospital equipment and space). Hence, being in such a work environment led to overwhelming feelings of inadequacy for Dr. Breen, that ultimately led to her demise.
|4. What can we as HCWs learn from this perspective?|
Think about who we want to be as a healthcare professional should we meet someone with a similar story some day. How should we behave around them? What should we do to make them feel more comfortable?
|The author of this invited commentary hopes that physicians, while holding responsibility for their patients, also understand that sometimes they’d encounter situations that are beyond their capabilities. It’s natural to feel powerless and to feel that one is not doing enough because they cannot be there for every single one of their patients. In such situations remind yourself and your colleagues that you cannot take responsibility for situations beyond your control.This is especially evident during the pandemic. It’s hard to be god-like when hospitals are pouring with COVID-19 positive patients that have limited staff and facilities. You are bound to feel mentally strained and hopeless when you can’t fulfil your life’s purpose. Due to a strong sense of duty for patients, physicians are likely to feel ashamed about their own struggles and not ask for help. If you or you know of a colleague who is experiencing these struggles, approach them kindly, actively listen to them and persuade them to reach out for help. The mental health of HCWs must be taken seriously. Medical license laws must take into account HCW’s mental health, because a prominent reason why HCWs do not seek help is due to fear of losing one’s license.|