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Why Physicians Should Prioritize Their Emotional Wellbeing

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February 26, 2021

Roadblocks to Seeking Help for Burnout or Other Mental Health Issues

  • Dr. Marianna Strongin believes that many physicians fail to recognize when they have compassion fatigue, burnout or depression
  • According to Dr. Strongin, there’s still a profession-wide stigma attached to mental health issues
  • Programs like Caring for Caregivers are designed to match a physician with the right therapist
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The issue of burnout has long plagued physicians given the many hours of physically and mentally draining work. But the past year of dealing with COVID-19 has ratcheted the demands on doctors even higher, and many may be experiencing profession-related mental health issues for the first time. Now more than ever it’s important to pay attention to the idea of compassion fatigue, says Dr. Marianna Strongin, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Strong in Therapy, her Manhattan-based private practice. “If you’re starting to feel as though you don’t have the patience to hear your patients’ stories, and you’re finding that you’re more irritable in the room with a patient, those are really important feelings to pay attention to,” she says. It’s an indication of burnout and possibly underlying depression that needs to be addressed.

Dr. Strongin advises that physicians start by looking at what’s been depleting them. “Take a look at your entire workday and figure out what part of the day is pulling the energy from you. Is it what you’re doing? Who you’re doing it with? The length of time you spend doing it?”

“Doctors are really good at assessing depression and anxiety in their patients, but seeking out help for themselves has been proven to be very difficult,” she says. One reason is that physicians are concerned that if they receive a mental health diagnosis it might affect their licensure and their malpractice insurance. “And that really keeps doctors from seeking out mental health treatment or even talking about it with their colleagues. It’s almost set up to be a stigma and a secret, and we have to find ways to break that.”

Dr. Strongin, along with Dr. Lori Plutchik, co-founded the New York-based organization Caring for Caregivers, which provides private mental health treatment for physicians on the frontlines of caring for patients with COVID-19. “If you’re a doctor and you’re struggling and you’re feeling overwhelmed, yes, it’s normal,” she says. “Many, many people are feeling this way. But it’s also important to take time and to notice it, to validate that feeling, to address it and to seek help.”