Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Last day of September

September is National Suicide Awareness month. With this last day of the month, I want to bring awareness to this heartbreaking issue.

You might be thinking: how does this relate to Mothers in Medicine? Unfortunately, it's a topic that has impacted me.

Most of you will remember Superstorm Sandy, right? Well, not only did it destroy billions of dollars in destroyed lives, too. My cousin (we'll call him Bill) was living in NYC, had 2 kids and a wife, had a couple of businesses that seemed to be going well. Then the storm hit--Bill lost several properties and his car to the flooding. His wife left him, and she took the kids. He was despondent. Little did I know at the time that Bill was also abusing alcohol. He even tried to get help from a counselor.

Bill moved in with my aunt and uncle, living in their basement, until he could get back on his feet. One day my uncle came home from work to find that his son, my cousin, had committed suicide. My dad went to be with the family and had to identify the body in the morgue. Bill's suicide was the most devastating event in our family's recent history.

Since Bill's death, his parents have struggled with all the stages of grief, as one can imagine. Now three years hence his mother is ravaged with anxiety. It's hard for me to conceive of anything more tragic than losing your child.  And losing them to suicide: a potentially preventable cause. Well, that's the kicker.

As a mother and a doctor, I think it's in my nature to be concerned about the welfare of others. I mean, that's part of those jobs, right? But since Bill's death, I really try to listen *intently* to the answer when I ask someone, "How are you doing?" I try to read the body language. But despite our best efforts as mothers, doctors, friends, etc. I am sure we miss the subtle hints of people who feel they are on the precipice, without hope to carry on. When I see people I know or patients I see with depression, I am insistent that they get treated. I impress upon our housestaff the importance of treating depression, for it affects a person's self-management of their other comorbid conditions.

So to our community of mothers in medicine: we must try to reach out to others, lend an empathetic ear, connect people with medications, counseling, other treatments for depression. Let us work to prevent losing more of our children, our loved ones, our colleagues, our neighbors to suicide.


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  2. What a moving post. Thank you for sharing on this incredibly important, yet frequently neglected topic. I cannot imagine the anguish that your family must feel. I wish your cousin had been able to get the help that he deserved, the help that is out there. I especially hope that your aunt and uncle are getting the support they need.

    I am a psychiatry resident and evaluating patients with suicide attempts is a routine part of my job. I ask patients directly about the ins and outs of their suicidal thoughts or attempts - what made you choose that method? Why those pills? What stopped you from jumping? As morbid as it sounds, patients will generally open up about the details if you ask. As a young psychiatrist, I see the ones who "failed" - those who are lucky to survive (even if they don't think so). I don't see those who successfully complete suicide. I never get to talk to those people.

    Yet, in my own life, I have experienced the devastation and pain that suicide wreaks. Shortly before starting medical school, I lost my friend, an intelligent, witty, yet anxious young man to suicide. I watched as his grandmother eulogized him at his funeral. It was heartbreaking. It still is.

    I carry a piece of him with me as I see my patients and as I grow up and into my role as a psychiatrist. I know I always will - even when I am an old and grey psychiatrist at the end of her career. And he will still be 26. He will always be 26. I wish he had made a different choice that night. I hope I can in some small way help others in that dark place make better choices. To choose life. Part of our job as doctors is to give people hope. To help them see that there can always be a better day.

  3. I attend a talk tfrom someone working at a Physician Help Program today and the guy said that female doctors are 4 times more at risk to commit suicide than other female. So I say this topic is right on subject for us "Mothers in Medicine"

  4. Thanks for sharing your family's story and for listening intently to what could behind someone's words. Important reminder for us all.


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