SpartanDO Expert Take 2020-06

June 24, 2020

For this blog post, we spoke with Jed Magen, DO, an associate professor and chair of the department of psychiatry. He specializes in child psychiatry and diagnosing and evaluating children and adolescents with combined medical-psychiatric disorders and severe, complex psychiatric disorders. Learn more about Dr. Magen.


Abandon the “I’ll power my way through this” ethos

Recommendations for physicians and health care workers to practice normative coping strategies

Physicians and other health care workers—especially those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic—are facing heightened stressors which are having a significant impact on their mental health. This includes experiencing a profound fear for their own health and that of their loved ones through exposure and inadequate protective or medical equipment, as well as operating in a newly impersonal environment because of PPE coverings and new procedures to limit contact with patients. “Physicians thrive on personal contact, and that level is difficult to achieve now,” Dr. Magen explains.

Now several months into the pandemic, Magen warns physicians and other health care workers to look out for the following signs of depression, anxiety, Acute Stress Disorder, or PTSD:

  • Depressed mood or anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Thinking about work constantly / not being able to turn off thoughts about work / having traumatic flashbacks from work
  • Feeling disconnected from your environment
  • Feeling burned out (feeling overworked or being unable to perform your job effectively)

Identifying these signs should trigger you to reach out for help and to implement positive coping strategies.

Magen has several recommendations for coping in normative ways:

  • Abandon the “I’ll power my way through this” ethos: true of our workaholic country and especially true of the medical profession, this ethos is damaging to mental health wellness because it discourages people from taking time to practice self-care. “Taking time for yourself is a foundational piece [of mental health wellness],” Magen affirms. He suggests communicating with your partner to coordinate a schedule that allows both of you to take much-needed time for yourselves. While social distancing is still in place, this may also necessitate creating a “bubble” of trusted friends or family members who can come in to take care of children to give you a break, if needed.
  • Make time to decompress: “You’ve got to be able to find some place for yourself to decompress, think through things, process,” Magen advises. When you’re at home, try not to think about work or work problems.
  • Talk about it: Talk through things with a colleague, friend or loved one. Any method helps: in person, on the phone, or through video chat. “Humans buffer stress through social connections,” he explains.

Beyond these individual actions, Magen emphasizes the importance of institutions—such as hospitals and governments—committing to providing wellness options long-term. These wellness solutions may include dedicated spaces where staff can practice quiet reflection, wellness services such as yoga or support groups, or reduced hours to allow staff to take advantage of these offerings. “When people are doing extraordinary things, you have to provide extraordinary kinds of support,” he asserts.

“Taking time for yourself is a foundational piece [of mental health wellness],” The danger of not implementing normative coping strategies is the chronic stress escalating into depression and even suicide if left untreated. Increasingly, doctors are becoming a high-risk group for suicide: in the United States, a reported 300-400 physicians die by suicide each year—about one doctor per day—double the rate of the general population. This is due to compounding factors of a high-stress job and the “I’ll power through it” ethos, among other things.

Mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources

  • If you have suicidal ideations, “Don’t wait, don’t try to ride it out,” Dr. Magen urges. Call or text your local suicide hotline or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for immediate support.
  • Contact your local community mental health center.
  • Seek out telehealth options: many mental health providers are offering telehealth visits during the pandemic to expand access to treatment and care.
  • Psychiatry services through MSU’s Department of Psychiatry are available for adults, adolescents, children, college students, young adults, and the elderly with a wide variety of mental health disorders.
  • Current MSU students can access campus Counseling and Psychiatric Services.
  • Current MSU employees can find additional resources through the Employee Assistance Program.

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