In this Invited Commentary, the authors offer a call to action in the longstanding fight to prevent clinicians from dying by suicide. In April 2020, the nation was shocked by the death by suicide of New York City emergency physician Dr. Lorna Breen, who died while recovering from COVID-19. She joins an unknown number of clinicians who have taken their lives over the past year. The authors introduce Dr. Breen, a highly talented physician working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, and examine how pervasive distress and suicide are in clinicians. Then they explain the lived experience movement and highlight how clinicians speaking openly about their mental illness and treatment are making it easier for their colleagues to seek lifesaving help, despite the stigma still surrounding mental illness and treatment in medicine.
The authors sort through the science of clinician distress, critique how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the lives of clinicians, and describe existing national initiatives to address clinician stress, burnout, and suicide. Finally, they recommend evidence-based actions to prevent clinician suicide that multiple stakeholder groups can take, including regulatory agencies, licensing boards, and hospital privileging boards; specialty boards, professional associations, and continuing education organizations; medical educators; and individual clinicians. Suicide is a complex but generally preventable cause of death. Those in medicine must forge ahead with collective momentum. Dr. Breen, so many other clinicians, and those they have left behind deserve nothing less.