New report shows lower rate of suicidal ideation among doctors, but NYC hospitals remain vigilant

Work to solve mental health problems providers need to be sustained and transformed as the trauma of the pandemic evolves over time, said Dr. Manish Sapra, executive director of mental health services at Northwell Health.

Telemedicine and other new tools are making it easier to access care. Providing services on flexible schedules will help, Sapra said, adding that health systems need to think about building resilience not just to any future waves of COVID, but to other health crises as well.

At Northwell, the foundation of the employee mental health strategy was the creation of the Center for Traumatic Stress, Resilience and Recovery, which was announced last April. At launch, the company provided both clinical and preventive services, including resilience training and stress first aid, and has since launched additional employee resources. These include a confidential behavioral health hotline and mental health training for residents and fellows.

The city’s public health system, NYC Health + Hospitals, organized its mental health efforts through the Helping Healers Heal initiative. There are currently 18 teams and 1,000 group support leaders in the system’s 11 hospitals. The program has also evolved to consider integrating wellness as part of building sustainability, and H+H has used funds from charities to invest in the area, including bringing in its first wellness director, Wei said.

But these resources will not necessarily be used.

“The biggest barrier to seeking help is stigma,” Sapra said. “We think we should help others and not stop to make time for ourselves.” According to him, there is a stigmatization among doctors about talking about mental health problems, and even more so about actual treatment.

Among the qualitative responses in the Medscape report were responses that medical professionals avoided psychiatric treatment because it could be reported to certification or licensing boards.

“One doctor wrote that in order to seek professional help, he had to drive two hours to another city, he did not use health insurance and was treated under a different name, all in such a way that he could not be traced,” said Leslie Kane, senior physician. Director of Medscape.

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Some state medical boards and hospitals ask doctors about mental health and substance use conditions, Sapra said. But New York is pretty liberal, and local hospitals that ask such questions tend to revolve around “disorder” rather than mental health, he added.

Sometimes it’s not just the fear of not getting a license, Wei said, “It’s just the fear of being seen as weak.” There is a sense, he says, that labels will be placed on the doctor, closing the door to opportunities where “harder” thinking is needed.

“That’s what we’re cutting back on in our programs,” he said.

The survey found that young doctors respond better to mental health and wellness programs. Millennials were more likely to tell a friend or colleague (35%) about suicidal thoughts compared to Gen X doctors (26%) and Baby Boomers (23%).

“Millennials seem to find it less embarrassing to get help, and they are more willing to seek help from anyone, not just a therapist,” Kane said.

More research and research is being done with the data, especially during the pandemic, that will help normalize mental health seeking, Sapra said.

“It’s time for us to realize that it’s okay to be out of order,” he said. “Our younger generation is totally leading the way and asking the right questions.”

This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crane’s business in New York.

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