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Why Physician Mental Health Matters—And How You Can Help

By: Chuck Chapa
3 Minute Read

Physician burnout was a major problem even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has only increased in severity over the last few years. The AMA reports over 52% of doctors are burned out, and according to the American College of Emergency Physicians, roughly 300 to 400 physicians in the U.S. take their own lives every year. Luckily, today many practices are recognizing the need for enhanced well-being services to protect their doctors and providers.

Why I Care

Mental health challenges are often perceived as a sign of weakness, resulting in generations of people who shy away from the help and care that they need. I’ve seen that stigma throughout my own life.

In 2005, I joined the U.S. Army as an infantryman. We were trained to overcome great challenges and adversity, and while this can be an excellent mindset, it can also teach you to mask pain and avoid seeking help. In fact, a member of my team committed suicide over our Christmas Break in 2006, and the powerful emotions that created stay with me to this day.

I deployed for 15 months, fighting in some of the world’s most dangerous places, and I’m still affected by the sights, sounds, memories, and loss we experienced. When my unit returned home, all seemed well as we reintegrated to “normal life,” but several of my best friends and teammates began to struggle with mental health. The stigma around seeking help led many of them to engage in self-care through things like alcohol, drugs, isolation, risky sexual behaviors, and disregard for the needs of others. Not long after we returned home, a second member of my team committed suicide. The pain of this is when something finally clicked in me, and I realized we were fighting a new war. I knew I had to help those suffering in silence.

Practice Wellness at Curi

After the military, I engaged more in the health and well-being space, working in a range of industries and settings. Through this work helping people deal with their emotional health, I found a renewed sense of purpose and shared experience, and I increased my focus on supporting organizations with well-being.

Over the last year, I’ve had the privilege of working as the Manager of Health Promotion and Well-Being at Curi. I work with teams from groups including Curi Advisory and Curi Insurance while managing well-being and practice wellness programs. My role is dedicated to helping practices create and implement long-lasting, customized strategies to combat challenges associated with well-being.

In almost every single practice I have worked with, staffing is one of the top challenges, often directly stemming from mental and behavioral health issues. That issue can lead to higher spending and increased administrative challenges. Mental health issues, such as burnout, anxiety, depression, and compassion fatigue have led to an increase in early retirements, resignations, and career changes from both staff and physicians. What’s more, many of those with licenses live with an ongoing fear that seeking care may result in their license being put in jeopardy. In turn, the understaffing crisis increases the demand on those that remain and contributes to more serious mental and physical health concerns among providers. It’s a cruel and exhausting self-perpetuating system that’s resulted in practices desperately searching for help—and having to spend more to do so.

What You Can Do

To achieve lasting change, we must work together to reduce the stigma surrounding mental and behavioral health. We can help those suffering in silence by shining a light into that dark place with tools and resources for providers to receive appropriate care without fear of retaliation.

Curi’s Well-Being Survey is one such tool—a dedicated resource for physician practices to evaluate their well-being status and identify possible solutions and resources. By evaluating a wide range of factors with as much information as possible, it helps to identify needs, disparities, and areas of opportunity. I strongly urge all Curi members and partners to take advantage of this resource. Together, we hold the keys to make lasting change.

 

 

 

Chuck Chapa
Chuck is the Manager of Health Promotion and Well-Being at Curi Insurance
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