The topics of mental health, burnout and self-care have arguably never been more magnified than they’ve been this past year. There’s no doubt that our world finds itself under siege from many angles, placing immense pressure on people and their families. One group that has experienced burnout at an alarming rate is the very people we turn to for help — our physicians. Doctors face the same state of cognitive, physical and mental exhaustion caused by sustained stress as non-physicians do — with one very specific difference: Most do not feel comfortable asking for help themselves.
COVID has changed our view in some ways. The world now clearly sees the incredible stress and pressure that physicians and our frontline healthcare workers face day in and day out. Combine that with the ongoing plague of doctor suicide — an estimated 400 every year — and the crisis is even more stark. Why do so many doctors not seek the support or treatment they need?
FCB Health New York, an award-winning healthcare communications agency, recognized this urgent issue and has been fighting this fight for more than five years. Long before COVID-19, we asked ourselves: We talk to doctors all the time, learn from them, work with them, but we never really ask how they are doing. Why?
We uncovered the shocking facts: According to findings unveiled at the 2018 American Psychiatric Association meeting, an estimated 400 doctors die by suicide each year. More than one per day, double the rate of the general population, the equivalent of two full medical school classes lost every year. We knew we had to step up and do something. But instead of planning a big awareness effort in phase one — our original plan — we shifted our focus to start building a coalition of partners who were aligned with our mission and to reach out in this first phase directly to those at risk.
The initiative, called “Disappearing Doctors,” officially launched in September 2020. A first-of-its-kind global effort, “Disappearing Doctors” offers a safe space on Sermo, our first coalition partner, with a dedicated hub within this doctor-only, anonymous portal. The goal: Spark dialogue and deliver to the medical community a forum where they might openly and safely talk about their mental health. The campaign was specifically designed to raise awareness about this taboo subject, with the goal of helping to eliminate stigma around mental health for our healers.
During the planning for this initiative, and in conversations with partners like Sermo and medical professionals, we started to better understand the startling truths and barriers to positive change: Many doctors are reluctant to ask for help (and sometimes even prevented from asking) without consequences — their insurance, licenses, practices and jobs could be put at risk.
As we continue to evolve our efforts, we’ve been fortunate to have the support of an incredible collection of partners including Thrive Global, Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Creative Artists Agency, National Suicide Prevention Hotline and more. Our partners are helping to drive meaningful change, and we are proud to join them in their efforts and work side by side on campaigns designed to flip the stigma and spark real change.
Because, ultimately, we share the same passion and vision: a world where our healers feel protected, valued and supported. Especially at times when they themselves deserve a healing hand.
We invite you to join us in this fight. To learn more and join the cause, please visit https://www.disappearingdoctors.com/.