A beautiful blog by Dr Michael Myers, on the recent National Physician Suicide Awareness Day and the great work being done by Jennifer and Corey Feist, founders of the Dr Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation, one of the missions of which is “We envision a world where seeking mental health services is universally viewed as a sign of strength for health care professionals.”.
The fourth annual National Physician Suicide Awareness Day (NPSAD) was September 17, 2021 and it was colossal, extending beyond our borders to Canada, the UK, and Australia. This was a day of reflection as we paused to remember medical students and physician colleagues whom we’ve lost to suicide. We recall how they lived their lives, not just how they died. A sad day yes, but also a day of study, new learning about physician health and wellness, exciting initiatives, and hope. My 3 previous blogs since its inception capture where we started and how far we have come in shining a light on such a difficult, tragic, and whispered about phenomenon.1–3
This year I want to pay homage to Jennifer and Corey Feist, sister and brother-in-law of Dr Lorna Breen, emergency physician and person extraordinaire, who took her life on April 26, 2020. Her death, while recovering from COVID-19, became national news immediately, then became known globally, as her family graciously consented to media coverage. Suicide is so jarring, and stigmatized, that very few relatives of doctors who die by their own hand, do this. The countless interviews that Jennifer and Corey have done are precious. Viewers not only learn about Dr Breen as a person, sister, sister-in-law, and doctor but they come away knowing about our vulnerability, our humanness as physicians. And they witness grief after suicide—the shock, sorrow, dignity, faith, and strength in those left behind.
Out of the ashes of tragedy, as the legend goes, arises renewal, change, creativity, and beauty. The Feists are exemplars of this. Within weeks of Dr Breen’s death, they formed the Dr Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation. I urge readers to visit their website. It’s full of resources and summarizes the tireless work they’ve been doing with medical groups nation-wide, including strategic efforts in Congress with Senator Tim Kaine to pass the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act (which passed in the Senate August 6, 2021).
One of the missions of the Foundation is “We envision a world where seeking mental health services is universally viewed as a sign of strength for health care professionals.” It is this sentence that I want to highlight, given that so many physicians struggle with the notion of asking for help. They see this as a sign of weakness or flaw, rather than the smart or professional thing to do. And because so many physicians who die by suicide have not received any professional assistance,4 this has to change.
Another salute to the Feists. This year, in addition to the huge number of presentations given by experts,5–7 families of physicians,8,9 and many others on NPSAD, the Feists (with The Physicians Foundation and First Responders First) created a dedicated website, packed with life-saving information, about the day itself. As a Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine, I’m thrilled to just learn that Jennifer and Corey will be recipients of 1 of the Innovators in Health awards on November 9, 2021.
Allies in health move us forward. Jennifer and Corey Feist are 2 of the finest. Please support their work.
- Myers M. Reflection on national physician suicide awareness day. Pysch Congress Network. Published online October 4, 2018.
- Myers M. National physician suicide awareness day: we refuse to forget. Psych Congress Network. Publushed online October 16, 2019.
- Remembering Dr Lorna Breen on national physician suicide awareness day. Psych Congress Network. Published online October 5, 2020.
- Myers MF. Toward preventing physician suicide: the humanity of colleagues upon losing one of their own. Paper presented at: The Virtual International Conference on Physician Health; April 29, 2021; London, UK.
- Pereira J. Q&A: Loice Swisher, MD, on national physician suicide awareness day. Tech Live. Published online September 18, 2021.
- NPSADay Livestream with Drs. Swisher and Lin. YouTube. 2021. Accessed October 7, 2021.
- Well Doc Alberta. Twitter. 2021. Accessed October 7, 2021.
- Physician suicide: one family’s story of unthinkable loss, pain, awareness and growth. YouTube. 2021. Accessed October 7, 2021.
- DuBosar R. After a physician dies by suicide. ACP Internist. Published online September 2021.
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, New York. He is the author of 9 books, the most recent of which are “Becoming a Doctors’ Doctor: A Memoir”, “Why Physicians Die by Suicide: Lessons Learned from Their Families and Others Who Cared” and “The Physician as Patient: A Clinical Handbook for Mental Health Professionals” (with Glen Gabbard, MD). He is a specialist in physician health and has written extensively on that subject. Currently, Dr. Myers serves on the Advisory Board to the Committee for Physician Health of the Medical Society of the State of New York. He is a recent past president (and emeritus board member) of the New York City Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The views expressed on this blog are solely those of the blog post author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Psychiatry & Behavioral Health Learning Network or other Network authors. Blog entries are not medical advice.
This blog was first published on Psych Congress Network on 7 October 2021.