CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The pandemic has taken a major toll on the mental health of medical workers. Studies show healthcare workers are experiencing depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
For more than a year, doctors and nurses have been pushed beyond their limits often forced to make impossible choices.
"It's just the weight and gravity of the work we do," Dr. Thomas Jenike SVP, chief well-being officer at Novant Health, said. "When you have someone that entrusts you with their life, these decisions we make 20, 30 times a day have life and death consequences. There is the time we spend at work then there's the time we spend away from work thinking about our work and all the decisions we made and that's heavy."
The exact numbers are hard to know, but a literature review found doctors die by suicide at a rate more than double the general population, from 300 to 400 a year.
"I think if you ask any physician they will know someone struck by this somewhere in their career," Dr. Jenike said. "For me, when I was in medical school one of my very best friends, my roommate died by suicide. It was a very shaping event in my career."
If you or a loved one are facing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, there is help readily available. You can call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or chat with them online. There are also resources in North Carolina available here and in South Carolina available here.
At times, the pace and pressure of the job can be unbearable. Doctors need mental health support, but the fear of being reported as unfit for work has created silence around mental illness.
"Oftentimes physicians feel like they have to choose between seeking help for their mental health and their medical license," Dr. Jenike said.
Dr. Jenike works to combat burnout for the sake of doctors and their patients. He says it's important for healthcare workers to ask for help when they need it.
"Physicians are human too, we often think they are superheroes because they work so hard and are so dedicated," Dr. Jenike said.
As the delta variant spreads, it's a reminder of gratitude for frontline workers.
"My experience is that my colleagues don't want to be called heroes but they still appreciate to be noticed at the same time, and the sacrifices that they are making," Dr. Jenike said. "If you live next to someone in healthcare just say thank you."
Another recent study also finds more suicides among nurses, specifically women, are also twice as likely to die by suicide than the general population.