The trauma of a tragedy, the exhaustion of the pandemic and the long hours may cause doctors to need mental health treatment, but the stigma prevents them from getting help.
Carl Stokes lives on the east side of Buffalo, New York.
“It took a lot of talking to people and trying to uplift people,” Stokes said.
After a mass shooting claimed the lives of 10 people at Tops supermarket just down the street from his home, the emergency counselor began treating people in his own neighborhood.
“I’ve come home a few times and been a bit shaken by some stories,” Stokes said.
Buffalo nurse Trinetta Alston and Dr. Kenyani Davis say it’s the stories of Tops employees, their patients, that haunt them.
“You’re tired of hearing about things happening in your community for people of color,” Alston said. “You’re fed up and you’re trying to figure out why.”
“You’re starting to see how the system is broken on top of all the health inequities we have, on top of structural racism, on top of the inability to help you get angry, and the the best you can do is take a step back,” Dr Davis said. “But every day you step back, there are other people who are hurting too. I don’t know where the aid is going.”
Community leader Lavonne Ansari held conversations with struggling police and funeral directors after the event.
“What would make you think they don’t have feelings, that they’re invisible?” Ansari asked.
It was Fred Rodgers who said, “Seek the helpers.” But what happens when assistants need help?
The onslaught of the pandemic and gun violence has mental health professionals trying to find ways to provide resources to those on the front lines.
A 2021 report from the Physicians Foundation found that 55% of physicians say they know of a fellow physician who has considered, tried, or committed suicide.
“This historic separation of ‘work stress’ and ‘home stress’ has become artificial now, and you see a lot of people experiencing both,” said Dr. Bernard Chang, vice president of research at the Department of Emergency Medicine from Columbia University. .
According to a Trusted Health survey, 60% of nurses say they would be afraid to share feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts with a colleague – the main reason being concerns about confidentiality.
Dr. Chang is both an emergency physician and a psychologist and leads Columbia University research on physician burnout. He says stigma prevents fellow doctors from seeking help.
“Documentation, burden, fear of losing control of your schedule as a major driver of burnout for clinicians or people leaving the field,” Dr. Chang said. “I think as system administrators, we really need to be aware of that and consider those voices when we’re thinking about strategizing about the most effective healthcare design.”
The study calls on employers to create an environment conducive to discussions about mental health.
“We have this cultural mindset of being above the fray and just being immune to some of the stresses that we see, and I would say it’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s okay to ask for help,” Dr Chang said.
Back in Buffalo, Alston says she’s taken advantage of some of her company’s mental health exercises and finds them helpful. She also finds the strength to remember her purpose and that she is only human.
“That’s what I asked for,” Alston said. “I didn’t ask to be rich. I didn’t ask to make $40 an hour. I didn’t ask for any of that. I asked God to let me show the love that was shown to me and where, but in your community can you do this?”