• View Webinar on Physician Mental Health, Suicide Prevention

    Presented by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

    June 3, 2021, 3:45 p.m. News Staff ― As part of the AAFP’s Leading Physician Well-being certificate program, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is offering a new webinar: “Physician Mental Health: Preventing Suicide and Building Resilience.”

    Smiling Asian female physician

    The 75-minute webinar features AFSP Chief Medical Officer and former University of California-San Diego Dean for Student Affairs and Medical Education Christine Yu Moutier, M.D., and Frank Clark, M.D., Medical Director of Adult Inpatient Services at PRISMA Health Marshall I. Pickens Hospital in Greenville, S.C.

    Family physicians who view the webinar can expect to learn about a wide range of mental health topics, including how to

    • apply their knowledge of prevalence and risk for depression and suicide to identify physicians and trainees most at risk;
    • create protective processes, policies and programs for preventing and addressing depression and suicide in physicians and trainees;
    • develop strategies to dispel stigma and prevent or overcome barriers to seeking positive culture changes;
    • identify individual and organizational strategies for suicide and burnout prevention that should be considered; and
    • approach a colleague who might be struggling.

    Clark spoke from personal experience on that last point, describing his struggles with adversity during medical school, which left him suffering from depression and even raised thoughts of suicide. He credits mentors he encountered during that period for helping him break the cycle by recognizing his need for support to overcome those obstacles. “You can’t experience resiliency without going through some type of adversity,” he explained.

    Indeed, the webinar stressed, practicing habits to safeguard mental wellness and resilience needs to be done at all career stages. Furthermore, it must be a shared responsibility at all levels of the health care system.

    Even so, Moutier observed, it’s important to acknowledge that even under the best circumstances, achieving personal wellness isn’t always a strictly linear process. “Mental health exists along a full continuum,” she said, “and we don’t always have to be at the top of this continuum.”

    From an individual perspective, mental well-being is multifactorial, Moutier added: “Day to day, our mental health and the experiences that we have related to our mental health are very much in a constant dynamic interaction between our internal genetics, biology, early childhood adverse events and early positive experiences and attachments in a constant interaction with our environment, at work and in our home life, and what we’re putting into our bodies and whether we’re exercising ― all of those things are extraordinarily dynamic.

    “I think the main takeaway I want to leave you with is that we have more control ― and I use that term carefully ― over our mental health than we may think we have.”

    Physicians and other health care professionals who are successful in protecting and promoting their own mental well-being also maintain their ability to provide optimal care for their patients, the webinar noted. These clinicians are less likely to commit medical errors or fall victim to burnout and more likely to experience professional fulfillment and remain in the profession long term.

    From an institutional perspective, strategies being implemented at facilities around the country to help physicians struggling with mental health issues fall into four primary areas:

    1. facilitating connections to needed resources at a variety of levels,
    2. providing education on topics such as relieving stigma and fostering mindfulness,
    3. reducing barriers to seeking or receiving care, and
    4. responding to crises or other urgent scenarios.

    Despite medicine’s slow pace in moving to put physicians’ wellness front and center, “times have been changing,” Moutier declared, “and although we’re early in our field’s transformation about building in these (resources and services) as an actual value” in the workplace, the momentum continues to shift in that direction.

    Ultimately, the payoff for adopting and nurturing a healthy professional culture, according to the webinar, is improved health care for both patients and clinicians.