Dr. Michael Myers admits he was late coming into the psychiatry field. As a first-year medical student in 1962, one of Dr. Myers’s roommates, also a medical student, committed suicide.
The stigmatization surrounding mental health and suicide was so profound that the school did not even acknowledge this student’s passing. It was then some years later as an internal medical resident that Dr. Myers saw, once again, the imminent threat of poor mental health amongst physicians.
“It was through that, that I got thinking I would like to attempt to be involved in people’s lives before they reach that desperate point,” Dr. Myers says of the experiences that drove him to his current profession.
In this episode of Prosperous Doc, our host Shane Tenny, CFP® welcomes Dr. Myers to discuss his new book, “Becoming a Doctors’ Doctor,” and the path that led him to and his work in psychiatric care for physicians.
Dr. Myers also discusses the impact, both negative and positive, COVID-19 has had on physicians and all healthcare professionals. He says the level of work brought on by the virus has certainly caused more work, more pressure, and more isolation for healthcare professionals. He also acknowledges, however, the true grit camaraderie that has blossomed amongst physicians like he has never seen before.
The pandemic has also brought a newfound focus on mental health and self-care. People who spend their lives helping others are finally getting the focus and attention they deserve.
“I think that I've seen big changes. I'm so hopeful about everything. I just feel that despite all of this and what we're going through in the world, I think, in regards to physicians’ health, we're making big strides,” Dr. Myers says.
Name: Dr. Michael Myers
What he does: Dr. Myers is Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and recent past Vice-Chair of Education and Director of Training in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at SUNY-Downstate Health Sciences University in Brooklyn, NY, where he focuses on research and mental health for physicians.
Company: SUNY-Downstate Health Sciences University
Words of wisdom: “My line is always the same, ‘Whatever you do, do something.’ Okay?”
Connect: Website | LinkedIn | Twitter | Book
Top takeaways from this episode
★ Breaking the stigma around seeking mental health help is vital to physicians’ well-being. Medical professionals tend to be perfectionists so they have an internal stigma that tends to make them feel weak, flawed, or inadequate when their mental health starts deteriorating. There is also the external stigma that society has against those who suffer from a mental illness. Until these stigmatizations are eradicated, physicians will be in danger of suffering more.
★ A lot of research has been done, but there’s a long way to go. While conducting research for his book, Dr. Myers interviewed families whose loved ones had died by suicide. Roughly 15% to 20% of the people he spoke with reported that their loved ones had not sought consultation of any kind. Their treatable illness went completely ignored, leading to their death.
★ Whatever you do, do something. If someone, in any walk of life, feels like they need help with their mental health, Dr. Myers advises them to do something. Reach out. Tell someone. Seek help.
[3:52] Background and motivation: After seeing his own roommate commit suicide in medical school and seeing the stress and threat of mental illness plague doctors while on a rotating internship, Dr. Myers was motivated to enter the psychiatry field. A few decades and books later, Dr. Myers is now chronicling his experiences in “Becoming the Doctors’ Doctor.”
[06:38] Community and camaraderie can save lives: In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Myers explains how he and fellow psychiatrist Dr. Viswanathan start support groups for frontline physicians, including the critical care physicians, the anesthesiologists, trainees, as well as the emergency physicians to find some sort of solace with each other.
[11:44] Doctors are human too: For far too long, doctors and physicians have been pushed like work horses, expected to keep up with new patients and new cases as they present themselves. This mode of work is not sustainable.
[16:14] Changing perceptions on physician mental health: The national medical licensing boards are beginning to look at questions that are giving physicians the opportunity to be more vulnerable about their struggles with mental health.
[24:38] Psychiatrists can learn from their patients: Dr. Myers describes how psychiatrists can become overconfident. The antidote? Humility.
[27:49] Not seeking mental health expertise: A doctor wouldn’t die from cancer without having seen an oncologist at least once. However, often when a physician commits suicide, he or she likely has not sought help from a psychiatrist.
[30:25] How to help: When sufferers begin seeking help, performing simple tasks such as making a phone call can be monstrously daunting. Dr. Myers describes how best to help.
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Disclaimer: Prosperous Doc podcast by Spaugh Dameron Tenny highlights real-life stories from doctors and dentists to encourage and inspire listeners through discussions of professional successes and failures in addition to personal stories and financial wellness advice. Spaugh Dameron Tenny is a comprehensive financial planning firm serving doctors and dentists in Charlotte, NC. To find out more about Spaugh Dameron Tenny, visit our website at www.sdtplanning.com. You can also connect with our host, Shane Tenny, CFP at email@example.com or on Twitter.
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