Medical professionals suffering mental pressures of COVID-19 treatment

TULSA, Okla. — The coronavirus pandemic is reaching new heights in November as new cases, deaths and hospitalizations reach all-time records.

The stress on the family and loved ones of COVID-19 patients is also stress felt by the people treating those patients.

According to the Physicians Foundation, doctors have a higher suicide rate than any other profession -- averaging about 400 suicides each year.

New York City ER doctor Lorna Breen, 49, ended her life on April 25 after the overwhelming influx of COVID-19 patients, contracting the illness herself, recovering, and working long shifts to try to save lives.

Breen’s family says she never showed she had struggled with anxiety or depression. There were no warning signs until it was too late.

The family worked to get her help, but they say Breen was worried that it would cost her career.

FOX23 talked with Breen’s brother-in-law Corey Feist who says she kept saying “I’m going to lose my license, my career is over, everything I’ve worked for in my entire life is gone because I got help.”

FOX23 learned that many doctors don’t reach out for mental health help because of the questions state licensing boards ask during the annual renewal process.

Lyle Kelsey, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision, says they are in the process of emailing physicians to let them know they can confidentially get free mental health help, and they’re changing the questions about mental health on annual license renewals.

The Physicians Foundation says recent surveys showed as many as 40 percent of physicians were struggling with burnout. The most recent survey shows that number jumped to 58 percent.

The foundation’s president says doctors are struggling with exhaustion and there’s no reason to believe that will improve as many physicians don’t expect the pandemic to be under control until the middle of 2021.

Corey Feist and his wife founded the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation to break the silence around physicians' mental health struggles.

Anyone looking to donate can do so here.

FOX23 reached out to Ascension St. John, St. Francis, and Hillcrest to find out what resources they’re offering doctors who are feeling burnt out during the pandemic.

The Physicians Foundation launched the Vital Signs Campaign to help doctors recognize the warning signs that could prevent physician suicide.

The campaign uses the acronym HEART -- Health, Emotions, Attitude, Relationships, and Temperament.

Anyone in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts can call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 for free, 24/7 support.