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  • Writer's pictureVirginia Hurdon

We Are Not Alone

Recent alarming statistics from the Canadian Medical Association suggest that burnout, depression, and anxiety rates are increasing rapidly amongst physicians and other health care professionals during the pandemic; however, they were rising even prior to the pandemic. Now, more than ever, those of us with mental health concerns are not alone. So why do we feel so alone?

  1. most of us who are suffering have never mentioned it to another person- a romantic partner, a friend, or a colleague- especially a colleague

  2. a lot of us are in denial that we need, or would benefit from, disclosing how we feel, or getting assistance- I’ve heard: ’it’s not that bad’; ‘I’m just in the same boat as everyone else’; ‘I don’t have time to be sick’; ‘burnout, anxiety and depression affect other people but not me’

  3. many health care professionals, deep down, consider their own mental health issues as a sign of personal failing or character flaw, (despite the fact they don’t view it that way for other people), making it that much harder to admit

  4. we are trained to be experts, the authorities and leaders that others depend on- illness doesn’t fit into that paradigm

  5. we often attribute burnout in particular to systemic issues that we feel we have little influence over, thereby increasing our feelings of helplessness and hopelessness

  6. the symptoms and cognitive distortions of the mental health concern(s) themselves make it difficult to reach out- withdrawal, for example is a common symptom of burnout and depression

When I hold a mirror up to these reasons I can see myself in all of them. No wonder it is so, so difficult to reach out! Which ones resonate for you? What others would you add?

As a result of all our ‘reasons’ to keep our suffering private, it is often only very late in the course of illness that we, sometimes involuntarily, are noticed and hopefully helped. Of course, tragically, sometimes we just don’t get help in time to save our own lives. I’ve been down that road too, and I can attest that it is not pleasant to be forced into action outside

your own volition- while it may save one’s life, that enforced loss of control can make recovery a harder climb.

What would make a difference, so that we feel more at ease with our vulnerability, and take that first crucial step- allowing ourselves to recognize our own humanity? It might have helped me to have:

  • a trusted colleague to regularly check in with, even just to trade active listening

  • some training and experience with mindfulness would have helped me be more objective with my own symptoms

  • a more self-compassionate and realistic medical culture during my training, to reduce the stigma of personal mental health concerns

  • basic training of all health care professionals how to notice and reach out to struggling colleagues.

Those are just a few ideas- what would help you now, or would have prevented you from becoming so ill before reaching out?

How can I help?

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