September is National Suicide Awareness Prevention Month
Dr. Lorna Breen was in the trenches of the front line at NewYork-Presbyterian's emergency department when COVID-19 first wreaked havoc on New York City. Lorna contracted the virus herself and then was working around the clock to save as many patients as she could in her overwhelmed department. A hospital x-ray room served as an impromptu morgue as the bodies piled up, serving as a reminder of all those who couldn't be saved and how ill-prepared the healthcare system was for a pandemic. Lorna struggled under the pressure to help others, experiencing what must have been an unfathomable weight, trying so hard to gain control of an uncontrollable situation. Lorna's spark was gone as she fell into a catatonic state, leading her to an 11-day stay in an inpatient psychiatric ward.
Days after her release, Lorna took her own life. She was not alone in her struggle with mental health, and if this could happen to Lorna, it could happen to any healthcare provider. Stigma is a driving force of suicide, and nurses are 4x more likely to die by suicide than the general population. It's a tragic irony that those who dedicate their lives to caring for others do not receive the care they need as they suffer from increasing rates of depression, burnout, and trauma post-COVID.
In honor of Lorna and the hundreds of healthcare professionals, who have taken their own lives, Lorna's family started the Lorna Breen Heroes' Foundation, which passed into law the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Act (H.R. 1667) in March 2022 with bi-partisan support. This act aims to reduce suicide, burnout, and mental health conditions among healthcare professionals. This is the first legislation enacted to help protect the mental health of healthcare professionals, you can learn more about the act here.
As you show up for others every day, remember to show up for yourself too.
Do you know someone who may be at risk of suicide? Here are a few resources that could help save lives: