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A message from the IU School of Medicine Department of Mental Health Services (DMHS): Medical learners frequently voice feelings of stress, exhaustion and overwhelming workloads amid the demanding pace of medical training.

Fostering hope and healing: Suicide awareness for medical learners

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A message from the IU School of Medicine Department of Mental Health Services (DMHS):

Medical learners frequently voice feelings of stress, exhaustion and overwhelming workloads amid the demanding pace of medical training. These shared experiences may also serve as precursors to profound mental health challenges; medical learners and physicians are in fact at a greater risk for experiencing distress, including alarming rates of suicidal ideation and death by suicide, related to demanding work, long hours and exposure to patient suffering.

Stigma related to mental health often operates as a barrier to care for those in medical settings due to fears surrounding disclosure discrimination, academic reprimands or concerns about long-term career prospects. Research shows that medical learners experience significantly more concerns related to burnout, stress, anxiety and depression compared to same-aged peers, but also that physicians who die by suicide are typically less inclined to engage in mental health treatment compared to individuals outside the medical field. While it may seem logical or even appropriate to guard yourself from the perceived negative consequences of a mental health disclosure, the long-term implications of an unaddressed mental health concern usually result in more significant distress and possibly more severe professional repercussions later.

DMHS recognizes that medical education is a challenging endeavor and that the provision of medical care to patients can also be difficult to manage. We recognize the importance of creating a supportive environment for medical learners across the training spectrum to feel heard, seen and cared for in their academic and professional pursuits. DMHS is committed to increasing the awareness of suicide, reducing the stigma of mental health and providing helpful resources to address this growing concern for a vulnerable population. 

This September, we hope you will join us in this pursuit of hope and healing and engage with these resources and activities:

Signs to watch for

Considering the benefits of early mental health intervention (e.g., early diagnosis, onset medication management, specialist referrals, preventive care) it is important to highlight possible warning signs of mental health distress and suicide. 

  • Withdrawing from social interactions
  • Significant changes in hygiene or self-care
  • Direct verbalizations of suicidality
  • Mentioning feeling trapped or hopeless
  • Extreme changes in mood, such as rage, and violence or threats
  • Indirect signs of suicidal thoughts such as giving away belongings and shifting from being very sad to very calm
  • Signs of impaired thinking such as risky behaviors, disorganized speech, or thoughts, and paranoia
  • Dramatic decline in performance at work or school

Starting a conversation

While recognizing the warning signs of mental health distress and suicide are important, it is also important to know how to support and communicate with someone who is experiencing signs of distress. The tips below provide a helpful guide in initiating conversations and expressing concern toward those who may be exhibiting signs of mental distress. Remember the acronym TELL.

T – Tell them your evidence

  • “You haven’t been yourself the past few days.”
  • “I’ve noticed you’ve been canceling plans a lot lately.”

E – Express your concern

  • “I’m worried about you.”
  • “I want to be sure you’re doing okay.”

L – Let them talk

  • “How are you doing?”
  • “What’s going on?”

L – Learn their risk and get help

  • “Have you thought about killing yourself? Do you know when? Do you know how?”
  • “I know it’s hard now, but things can get better. Let’s get you help.”

DMHS Suicide Awareness Activities

1,000 paper cranes 

  • Folding hope, one paper crane at a time. Join us in creating 1,000 paper cranes for suicide awareness – a symbol of unity, resilience and the power of community.
  • Paper Crane Instructions

DMHS mental health questionnaire

  • Checking in on your own mental health is an important part of staying healthy and caring for yourself. The DMHS Mental Health Screener is a chance for you to reflect on various aspects of your mental health and well-being. It is fully anonymous, and nobody will contact you in response to your answers. You won’t receive a score at the end, but completing the screener may enable you to reflect on how you feel and whether it may be appropriate to take some steps to better care for your mental health. At the end of the screener, you’ll find a list of resources that you can access if, in completing the screener, you realize that you may benefit from additional tools or support.
  • DMHS Mental Health Questionnaire

DMHS podcast

  • The Department of Mental Health Services introduces our new monthly podcast, “Well Beings: Strategies for Surviving and Thriving at the School of Medicine and Beyond.” Monthly episodes will take short, in-depth dives into self-care strategies. This September, we focus on the critical topic of addressing suicide and difficult conversations.
  • Podcast Link

Dean’s Grand Rounds

  • Join us on October 25 from noon to 1 pm to hear Dr. Mike Myers, an expert in the field of physician suicide. His presentation will cover how bullying, microaggressions and stigma may contribute to worsening mental health among medical learners and will also cover strategies for a helpful pathway forward. 
  • Dean’s Grand Rounds Registration Link

Need to talk?

For trainees: The Department of Mental Health Services is available to provide mental health and personal counseling services to all students, residents, and fellows. There are a few ways to access services:

  • To request an appointment with the Department of Mental Health Services, send a secure message via the online portal at or call 317-278-2383 during normal business hours (Monday – Friday, 8 am to 5 pm).
  • For urgent matters, call 317-278-HELP (4357), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A licensed clinical health specialist will provide an assessment and help direct you to appropriate treatment options based on the situation. You may also call on behalf of a trainee if you are a family member, friend or colleague concerned about their well-being. You may call anonymously, if desired.
  • TimelyCare is a free resource to all IU students that allows them to have 24/7 access to a mental health provider across the country. You can engage with a clinician via video chat, text, or phone. Signing up just requires your student email. No need to follow through with this resource but wanted you to have it on hand just in case. I will see you next week!

For IU Health employees:

For IU Employees:

  • The IU Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides 24/7/365 access to licensed mental health counselors via SupportLinc or 888-881- LINC (5462) for IU School of Medicine team members and their households.

Access to Anthem LiveHealth Online is included with your IU-sponsored medical coverage. This service allows you to engage with a mental health provider via telehealth using your IU insurance provider.

Additional Resources

Department of Mental Health Services

Regional Campus Mental Health Services

Crisis Resources

Mental Health Reference Materials

Mental Health Screenings

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

National Physician Suicide Awareness Day

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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