IMA steps in with psychiatric support, counselling to stop suicides among doctors in Kerala

So far this year, 11 doctors have died by suicide in the state. Observers say there have also been several unreported suicide attempts.
Image used for representational purpose only.
Image used for representational purpose only.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: In response to a growing concern over the alarming rate of suicides among doctors and medical students, the state branch of the Indian Medical Association is spearheading a voluntary initiative to provide much-needed psychiatric support, house visits, and mental health awareness within the medical community.  

So far this year, 11 doctors have died by suicide in the state. Observers say there have also been several unreported suicide attempts. The IMA’s suicide prevention network is modelled on the physician wellness centres functioning in hospitals in developed countries to help doctors overcome stress. The initiative is expected to be launched by mid-January.

“Doctors are overworked and a majority of them are cut off from society,” said IMA state secretary Dr Joseph Benaven. “The stress caused by heavy workload and loneliness has taken a toll on the mental well-being of doctors. To address this, we are making a conscious effort to reach out to them with professional help.” He said psychiatrists will be visiting medical college campuses to counsel house surgeons and postgraduate students on maintaining mental well-being. 

IMA has formed a committee for ‘Emotional Well-being and Suicide Prevention’ by including senior psychiatrists. They have formed a voluntary group of about 60 psychiatrist volunteers to offer counselling. 
“We will launch a user-friendly mobile app which helps the users to understand their stress level. The app will have a call facility to reach out to psychiatrist-volunteers. The app will have features to maintain the privacy of callers,” Dr Benaven said. 

He expressed hope that a dedicated helpline operated by professionals will encourage doctors to open up about their problems. In addition to tele-help, IMA plans to establish a ‘Doctors Support Cell’ in all 108 of its branches. The cell consists of a group of doctor volunteers trained by a psychiatrist on stress reduction. They will visit the house of a doctor in trouble and offer support. 

“Most of the doctors are affiliated to an IMA branch. The group likely contains a friend of the person in need of support,” the IMA state secretary said. To garner acceptance for the initiative, IMA intends to release a video titled ‘Breaking The Barrier’ among doctors, aiming to overcome inhibitions associated with seeking professional help. 

IMA’s suicide prevention network

  • Mobile app to understand stress level
  • Dedicated helpline with a psychiatrist volunteer
  • In-house visits by peers trained to reduce stress
  • Awareness classes for medicos 
  • Major stressors among doctors 
  • Medicos - overwork, work-life imbalance, marital issues, financial burden
  • Senior Doctors - Cut off from society, loneliness, children moving away

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The New Indian Express