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In recognition of National Physician Suicide Awareness Day (Sept. 17), the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) applauded efforts to protect health care heroes on the frontlines – and called for “meaningful change to break down barriers that prevent emergency physicians and other health care professionals from seeking mental health treatment.”
“Today, we recognize lost colleagues and prioritize efforts to empower every emergency physician to get the mental health care they need,” said Dr. William Jaquis, M.D., FACEP, president of ACEP. “Fighting the COVID-19 pandemic for months on end is taking a toll on each of us. If there was ever a time to improve the way we address physician mental health, that time is now.”
Even before the pandemic, nearly two-thirds of emergency physicians said they experienced burnout on the job. Research indicates that, in the U.S. alone, about 6,000 emergency physicians contemplated suicide in 2018, with nearly 400 attempting to take their life. Circumstances have only become more dire as the fight against COVID-19 continues.
ACEP is leading the way to champion efforts in Congress to promote resources and reduce the stigma of physicians’ mental illness and other challenges. Emergency physicians strongly support legislation such as the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act and the Coronavirus Health Care Worker Wellness Act of 2020 which “would help deepen our understanding of the impact the pandemic has had on health care workers and expand mental health support services and resources for health care professionals,” ACEP said. “Physicians should be able to seek treatment for their mental health issues that do not affect patient care without fear of repercussions to licensing, credentialing, or future employment. ACEP and more than 40 leading medical organizations developed a statement that outlines how to remove these barriers to seeking treatment and encourage professional or peer support.”
For its 40,000 members, ACEP offers wellness resources where emergency physicians can find peer support, free wellness and coaching sessions, and other tools to help them navigate the biggest sources of stress.
“Emergency physicians across the country are struggling to manage their mental health while they risk their lives to protect patients,” Jaquis said. “The status quo must change; seeking care and support should be strongly encouraged, not penalized.”
Visit emergencyphysicians.org for more information about protecting physicians’ mental health.