Demand for mental health supports among B.C. doctors is at an all-time high due to the pandemic, as the medical community mourns a Quebec physician who recently took her own life.
Dr. Karine Dion worked in an emergency room and had 10 years of experience. But dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on patients over the last year took a toll, according to her family, and this month she died by suicide.
Across the country tributes are pouring in, and many doctors recognize the pressure during the pandemic has amplified an already stressful job.
“The news out of Quebec certainly weighs very heavily on us,” said Dr. Matthew Chow, the president of Doctors of B.C.
Beyond working on the front lines of the crisis, dealing with a highly infectious disease, Chow noted that health-care workers go home to to the same challening pandemic restriction that everyone else faces.
“It means we can’t take a break from this. Wherever we go, even if we go off shift, the pandemic is there waiting for us.”
While Chow said many health-care workers do have coping strategies, it makes decompressing hard.
The Canadian Association of Emergency Doctors says five to eight per cent of its members reported thinking about suicide in the last year.
Chow said that number didn’t surprise him.
“We are seeing unprecedented demand for our psychological support services for our members,” he told CTV News. Chow, a mental health specialist, said he wouldn’t be surprised if similar scenarios played out in other health-care professions.
The Canadian Medical Association said even before the pandemic, burnout and suicidal thoughts were a concern.
In a statement, the association cited a 2017 CMA National Physician Health Survey that found "30 per cent of physicians were reporting burnout, while eight per cent had suicidal ideation in the previous 12 months.
In addition to expressing condolences to Dr. Dion’s loved ones and colleagues, the association encouraged doctors who are struggling to reach out for help.
Chow believes a culture of stoicism, a desire to help, and feelings of guilt may get in the way. He said the good news is, the view of mental health is changing from one of blaming individuals to recognizing how systems and work practices can contribute to burnout and stress.
And while he and his colleagues appreciate the public recognizing health-care workers as heroes during this difficult time, he also noted, “we aren’t superhuman.”
Many doctors may worry about their safety, have loved ones who are infected, or have just worked many hours, and he wants the public to understand those on the front lines may also need support.
“We work really hard throughout our training, we’re expected to work long hours, we’re expected to treat very difficult problems and deal with people in their worst moments of suffering and vulnerability."