The State of America’s Mental Health Requires Putting Ourselves First

A new report paints a dismal picture of mental health in America, especially for clinicians.

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

For our first weekday daily news story, what could be more important than our collective mental health after such an unprecedented year flooded with danger and conflict? Right on time, a summary of the recent poll by Mental Health America came to my attention yesterday.

The data on the public’s mental health was dismaying, but not surprising: Some further increase in symptoms of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and suicidality, although even more so for youth, LGBTQ+, and minority populations.

However, it is the data about us—about health care professionals, specifically—that really caught my attention. About 90% reported undue stress during the past 3 months, and about 75% reported symptoms of burning out, including frustration, exhaustion, and being overwhelmed.

What’s this country coming to if the helpers are having more mental health problems than those they try to help? We can help others on our own, but to tackle this issue we need help from society—patients, payers, politicians, and the public—to reduce the harm of for-profit medicine. Normally, we would try to do more in less time, but we cannot if our mental suffering is increasing, so much so that our emotional engine is signaling that we are running out of gas.

Let me suggest this heresy, at least for now, of switching our ethical priorities, which is to put our mental health needs before those of patients. After all, burnout is associated with poorer patient outcomes. Tomorrow is not too early to start because it is the World Health Organization's Annual Suicide Prevention Day, and physicians have among the highest rates of suicide, which is not how we want to be known.

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 relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.