In 2016, Dr. Murray Erlich became restless at night and losing sleep.
“I was probably averaging five to five-and-a-half hours of sleep, rarely more and sometimes less,” he said.
At the time, he was working as a psychiatrist and had been doing so for over two decades but the job began to weigh on him.
“I think when I came home, my family noticed my memory wasn’t the same that it was. I had more difficulty making decisions,” he said.
“I wasn’t quite myself but I worked as hard as I could to preserve my work and I think that’s what a lot of physicians do.”
Erlich said he was experiencing symptoms of burnout, something he would often see in his own patients.
“I was starting to feel burnt out and I was aware in my practice I was treating people who were burnt out,” Erlich said.
“But I felt like, at work, I was able to function pretty much fine – not at my optimum – but it just got to a place where it got really hard to think of going and doing that work day in and day out.”
A new study from the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) released on Wednesday reveals a growing number of physicians are feeling symptoms of burnout and depression.
The study surveyed 2,947 doctors from across Canada. Although 58 per cent reported their mental health was flourishing, 26 per cent said they experienced burnout and 34 per cent reported symptoms of depression.
Dr. Gigi Osler, president of the CMA, said there is stigma around physicians coming forward seeking help with mental health.
“When you see doctors who are trained to be stoic and self-sufficient, not admit any weakness, for them as the healers and caregivers to admit they are suffering from burnout, it’s hard for them,” she said.
“So part of what we are trying to do is raise awareness and have these discussions to normalize the discussions of physician health so that it is not stigmatizing.”
In 2017, Erlich decided to retire from psychiatry and pursued a career as a certified life coach.
“Very soon after I retired my sleep improved,” he said, adding more needs to be done to help physicians working in the field.
“Something needs to be done to help what’s really a mini epidemic.
“There is a saying that I’ve come across that says, ‘Listen to the whisper before it comes a scream’ … and for me there were whispers … and I believe I waited a little bit too long.”