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Practical Advice for Physicians Struggling with Mental Illness

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August 31, 2020

Our Field Has a Mental Health Crisis — How to Address Burnout in the Time of Stress and Isolation

  • Communicate with your colleagues to check in on them
  • Allow yourself to be vulnerable and openly express how you are feeling
  • Find healthy ways to deal with burnout, such as exercising, unplugging from your devices, and doing activities that bring you enjoyment — for example, cooking or crafting
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Many of us in the oncology world believe there’s a mental health crisis going on right now, and acknowledging it is a first step in addressing the problem. The demanding pace of the industry puts physicians at high risk for burnout, particularly in the midst of the high-stress environment that a global pandemic brings. Nearly half of physicians surveyed have reported feeling a sense of emotional exhaustion and low accomplishment. Stigma and fears of reputational harm can prevent some clinicians who need mental health care to address these feelings from accessing it.

So where can physicians go for help? For Cedars-Sinai gynecologic oncologist Dr. Bobbie J. Rimel, maintaining old connections and establishing new ones is an integral part of the¬†solution. “Reach out. There are a lot of opportunities to do that, both within the network that you know, but even in the network that you don’t know as well,” she suggests.

That’s easy to say, but as some physicians tell SurvivorNet Connect, there is a lot of fear around going public with mental health issues. Some doctors we spoke to said that they were afraid that talking about their struggle on a Facebook group, or even within their department, might create problems when it comes to advancement or professional mobility in the future.

There is some fairly standard advice that can still be really helpful. It’s¬†critical is to maintain a consistent schedule through these unsettled times. “I think it gives us better control over uncertainty,” says Dr. Emise Zsiros, gynecologic oncologist at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.