When I first started working in the pharma industry 12 years ago, I met a GP who was funny and popular amongst his colleagues. When I called one of the GPs to book another appointment a few weeks later, I learnt that the ‘popular’ GP had committed suicide. I was shocked and I didn’t know what to say. I kept thinking that he was the funniest doctor I had met, a family man and he owned two GP practices. Why would he end his life like that? Although I carried on visiting both practices for many years it just wasn’t the same.
To this day nothing has changed. Doctors have the highest suicide rates in the world and most of them don’t even talk about their worries. From my experience I saw many healthcare professionals who only exchanged a “how are you?” sentence throughout the day with their colleagues and the typical reply “I’m fine!” and nothing more.
The chances are some of your colleagues have considered ending their lives or they attempted it and if they tell you, you must handle it in a professional way. Most of the time when we work hard, we tend to lack empathy or sympathy towards someone due to tiredness or we simply don’t know what to do or say and we are likely to disregard their thoughts and emotions until is too late.
If anyone starts talking about suicide, even as a joke, the main questions to ask are:
- How have you prepared for it?
- How and where will it happen?
- What will happen afterwards?
- Who will be affected and who will come to the funeral?
By talking about each step with the vulnerable HCP you can help minimise the unpleasant feelings and distorted thinking which are almost always temporary and treatable.
Research shows that people consistently underestimate victims’ suicidality maybe because it can cause anxiety and apprehension but, in any case, talking about the process of suicide and how it will affect others in the victim’s life is the primary strategy of suicidal intervention. When you engage in conversations like this, take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional. Do not leave the person alone and remove any sharp objects, alcohol or drugs that could be used in a suicide attempt.
Signs of possible suicide to look out for when working with your colleagues:
- Extreme self-hatred, for example, the HCP can say that they don’t deserve to live.
- Personalised hopelessness, for example, nothing matters anymore, what’s the point of carrying on.
- Isolation, for example, it is better to be by myself just on my own.
- Thoughts of not belonging, for example, I don’t fit in anywhere.
- Thoughts of being a burden to others, for example, I just drag everybody down, I’m a burden to my family or society.
The behaviours associated with suicidal thinking can include the following – this is what to look out for:
- Previous attempts of suicide.
- Disrupted sleep patterns.
- Increased anxiety and agitation.
- Outbursts of rage and anger.
- Risk-taking behaviour.
- Increased alcohol and drug use*.
- Sudden or uncontrollable mood swings.
- Any actual talk that mentions suicide.
*Alcohol or drug dependence is another considerable risk factor and accounts for 50% of suicides.
Healthcare professionals need to start talking more, to express their feelings and worries and to be kinder to one another. I created a club on Clubhouse** called ‘HCPs Matter ’https://www.clubhouse.com/club/hcps-matter where you can engage between you and talk. Everyone is in the same situation and most certainly your colleagues can understand what you are going through. HCPs Matter is designed to support Healthcare Professionals to communicate more effectively, to boost their mindset and to understand themselves and others better. Topics include stress and burnout, emotional intelligence, mindfulness, work, finances, health and fitness, relationships, social life, addictions and personal development.
**Clubhouse is a free audio app where you can download on Apple or Android. You can access the app by invite only; please direct message me to invite you to Clubhouse. I’m looking forward to seeing you there!
For guidance there are services available 24/7:
The 111 service provides urgent mental health assessment and support 24/7.
A helpline for anyone feeling low or considering suicide.
Phone: 116 123
Services available at other times
A free, confidential service for anyone in Scotland experiencing low mood, depression or anxiety.
Phone: 0800 83 85 87
- Monday to Thursday – 6pm to 2am
- Weekends – Friday 6pm to Monday 6am
An information, support and referral service for anyone who identifies as LGBT+.
Phone: 0300 330 0630
Phonelines open: 10am to 10pm every day
Webchat open: 10am to 10pm every day
Confidential and free support, information and signposting for men.
Phone: Nationwide – 0800 58 58 58
Phonelines open: 5pm to midnight every day
Webchat open: 5pm to midnight every day