To find an example of people who are especially unwell, look no further than a group of doctors. Or worse, resident doctors.
Would you hire a broke financier as a wealth manager? Would Über employ a driver whose personal record is a smattering of daily accidents? No. Yet the people in charge of our society’s health are alarmingly unwell. When physicians become more than twice as likely to commit suicide as the general population, what we have is an epidemic with patient zero(s) at the helm.
Wellness is not just the absence of physical disease – it is the intersection of physical + mental + spiritual health. We have been inundated lately with articles calling attention to the epidemic of physician burnout. The common reasons listed include:
All true. All relevant. All need to be changed.
But why do these things make doctors unhealthy? What is the common pathophysiology between these aspects that creates the barrier to wellness?
The answer lies in Disconnection.
If we think of wellness and happiness as the top of a mountain, then humans have been trying to climb it since the dawn of consciousness from all directions. The paths look different from each other, but the common tool to forge the way is to connect.
I could go on. It’s no accident that we have phrases like “being a part of something larger than myself.” Alan Watts, the famous British philosopher who brought eastern philosophy to the west, explained that the antidote to anxiety is realizing that the ego of “self” is an illusion, an attempt to horde security for the future, while happiness lies in presence and the realization that we were always whole and connected. The “I” doesn’t exist.
The identity of a Healer through the ages used to be a sacred calling that formed a crux of connection in the community. Unfortunately, being a modern physician is one of the most disconnected experiences in our era. Let’s take another look at the reasons for burnout in the context of disconnection:
Just like a flame in an airtight chamber extinguishes without oxygen, a disconnected experience is not sustainable.
Our lack of wellness is not an accident – it’s a result of systematic steps that cut off the oxygen. A physician suicide is not any more tragic than a tinker/tailor/soldier/spy reaching the same desperation, but it is a more alarming sign of our broken cycle. We don’t know wellness, but our society and culture place us in a position of authority over it; our insurance companies would only pay for us, instead of for someone with expertise in multidimensional health, to deal with the issue. Our research funding pay for the creation of medicines, not change, because the former is profitable.
The way forward is clear, and it involves going backwards in some ways. Let’s invest in understanding the role of a healer and reconnect with that calling. To do this, we will have to commit to radical changes, tear down structures accepted as given, and go back to the drawing board. Only when we stand in an open space can the rebuilding begin.
Originally published at amyfanmd.com