The Emotional Baggage Follow-Up Series: A Tale of Two Mental Health Strikes


Did psychiatrists collectively do the right thing in these situations…?

protest strike

Dasha Yurk/AdobeStock


Back just about a year ago, on January 10, 2022, our column wondering “Should Medical Doctors Ever Go on Strike in the United States?” focused on a recent and lengthy strike of physicians in New Delhi hospitals in India, who were protesting about the understaffing related to the Omicron COVID-19 variant. Thousands of such strikers were detained by the police before promises by the government ended the strike at the end of December 2021.

Trying to act like a real reporter, I contacted a psychiatrist colleague in India, who conveyed to me that strikes by physicians are illegal in India and used only as a last resort. Despite periodic overwhelming needs in hospitals in the United States over the pandemic time, often exacerbated by inadequate administrative preparation and responsiveness, there were no strikes. Seemingly, that would be illegal.

As it turned out, perhaps the physician strike in India foreshadowed a mental health worker strike at Kaiser Northern California, as we covered in our August 26, 2022, column, “As the Strike of Mental Health Workers Goes On, What Will the Rest of Us Do?” Psychiatrists at Kaiser did not participate.

Finally, near the end of October, about 2000 mental health workers ended the 10-week Kaiser strike. The new contract provided 2 hours of additional time to respond to patient-related requests, a commitment to hire more therapists, and more time for the initial evaluation of children, all which should improve quality of care. A modest pay increase was included.

A different, much briefer mini strike was covered in our August 2, 2022, column “The Wizard of Oz and the Walk-Off of the Medical Students” at the University of Michigan on July 24th. During the white coat ceremony of new medical students, a large number stood and left in protest of the keynote speaker for her “pro-life” stance on abortion. Finding out what happened afterwards was difficult, although a psychiatrist on the faculty who I contacted, and who was not involved, told me that it seemed like the issue just subsided gradually.

Given the absence of psychiatrist involvement in both of these administrative conflicts, the question that I am left with is whether we collectively did the right thing.

What, if any, emotional baggage is left over from psychiatrists standing on the sidelines like innocent bystanders when colleagues and patient care seems to be compromised, apparently unnecessarily? Fear? Guilt? Relief? Satisfaction?

What do you think?

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

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