During an interview on the wellbeing of healthcare workers, a reporter asked me how I felt about my mental health as things were opening up in Illinois. I was experiencing a slow return to normalcy in my worklife, seeing patients return to the Emergency Department for what we call our “bread and butter” cases — presentations I felt comfortable and familiar with, like chest pain, abdominal pain or urinary complaints. Just 3 months ago, I felt like I was spending a significant portion of my clinical time, both on and off my shifts, desperately trying to keep up with COVID-19, reading up on ever changing presentations, guidelines and available information.
As we continued to speak, she asked me point blank and on the record if I had reached out to a mental health provider during the pandemic to help me cope. I immediately felt a sense of dread, cringing and hesitating in my response. As physicians, we are trained to be team leaders and emulate strength and resiliency. However — I could not ignore how I have felt over the course of this year and that I know for a fact that I am not alone in these feelings.
“Yes” I admitted, surprising myself. I was afraid that that anyone listening or reading the story when it came out would hear that I had been “weak” and resorted to speaking to a psychologist. The truth was that just a few weeks ago, the worry about the pandemic, parenting, homeschooling, my work and the usual stressors of life had become so cumbersome that I was having trouble focusing or thinking through even the smallest issues. I was ruminating over them all, feeling crushed by my many burdens and losing sleep almost daily. I needed someone to talk through them with me, to express my grief over the impacts of this pandemic on my children, family, friends, colleagues, patients, health and freedoms. I just needed an outsider to help me organize my thoughts and gain perspective.
Just one day after my interview, the New York Times ran a story on Dr. Lorna Breen, an emergency physician in New York who had suffered and recovered from COVID-19, but succumbed to the impacts of the pandemic on her mental health and resorted to ending her life. In response to this story, a prominent physician on social media, Dr. Esther Choo, declared on Twitter that as a healthcare provider she had seen a therapist and been…