A study conducted by Gold and colleagues that analyzed data from 2003 to 2008 showed that compared to the general public, physicians who died by suicide were less likely to have consulted mental health experts, less likely to have been diagnosed with mental health problems, and less likely to have antidepressants in their system at the time of death.
The COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate these trends, suggests a recent study from China in which investigators surveyed 1257 healthcare workers in January and February.
Results revealed that a significant proportion of respondents had symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress. This was especially true among women, nurses, those in Wuhan, and frontline healthcare workers who were directly engaged in diagnosing, treating, or caring for patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.
As Masood watched similar concerns accumulate on the COVID-19 Physicians Group Facebook forum, she decided to take action. She says her mentality was, “If not me, then who?”
Assisted by a team of experts, she created the hotline without any funding but with pro bono contributions of legal and ethical work, and she received a heavy discount from a company called Telzio, which developed the hotline app.
The hotline is open daily from 8:00 AM to midnight Eastern Time, and calls are free. Services are available only to physicians, in part because as a group, doctors tend to harbor guilt about asking for help that someone else might need more, Masood says.
When other types of healthcare workers call in, volunteers redirect them to hotlines set up for first responders and other healthcare providers.
So far, more than 600 psychiatrists have volunteered. They sign up for hour-long shifts, which they fit in between their own patients. Two or three psychiatrists are available each hour. Calls come directly through the app to their phones. There is no time limit on calls. If calls run long, psychiatrists either stay on past their shifts or pass the call to another volunteer.
Fight or Flight Response
Since its launch, the number of calls has steadily increased, Masood says. Callers include ICU doctors, anesthesiologists, surgeons, emergency department doctors, and some physicians in private practice who, Masood says, often express guilt for not being on the front lines.