If doctors look after patients, then who is looking after the doctors?
It is a question Amandip Sidhu turned over in his mind following the suicide of his brother in 2018.
Hundreds of health professionals have taken their own lives in the past decade with the demands of their jobs only intensifying throughout the pandemic.
As a result, Amandip set up Doctors in Distress whose goals include campaigning for greater awareness of the pressures facing doctors and encouraging more compassionate and supportive workplaces.
Amandip said: “Jagdip outwardly had everything one would aspire to but was slowly crushed by the demands of the workplace.
“He didn’t tell anyone because he was afraid of letting his patients and colleagues down. The system he worked so hard and cared for didn’t look after him.”
“You would think health professionals would be less vulnerable because of their training but they are among the worst affected professions by suicide.”
Amandip first realised something was wrong when, without warning, Jagdip announced that his workplace had signed him off work with stress.
He thinks his brother may have misinterpreted this as a punitive measure threatening a 25-year career in which he had never took a day off sick.
Amandip added: “I went to see him that weekend and he was a different person from the calm dependable brother I knew.
“His hands were shaking, he was close to tears and looked completely drained. It never crossed my mind that he would do anything to harm himself.
“He couldn’t get any perspective on what had happened or see that he wasn’t to blame. We’re all human at the end of the day but doctors seem to think they have to be more than that.”
Amandip received an email several day later from Jagdip asking that his younger brother help his wife put his affairs in order. Jagdip’s body was found later the same day.
Amandip added: “I couldn’t believe it. I went home on autopilot and woke crying in the middle of the night. I had to break the news to my mum the next day which was the hardest thing to do.
“One thing we agreed on was to be open about what happened. It can happen to anyone and we wanted to ensure others learnt from this and prevent future tragedies. There is still a lot of stigma around suicide when what we need is to talk about it more.”
Amandip’s was determined no-one else be put in a similar position and made contact with Dame Clare Gerada, an advocate for doctors’ health, who ran a support group for bereaved medics’ families who had died suddenly or by suicide.
He invited Clare to help steer Doctors in Distress and she subsequently became Chair of the trustees’ board.
The response to the charity’s work has been overwhelmingly positive and Amandip recently attended a memorial tree planting ceremony at Ealing Hospital in memory of all health professionals who have died by suicide.
It was a poignant event for Amandip whose brother started his career at Ealing.
“It was a step in the right direction but a lot remains to be done because this is a systemic problem.
“We need a properly resourced and staffed health service along with genuine support and compassionate leadership for doctors who feel they are struggling to cope.”
For more information, see doctors-in-distress.org.uk