Even as a psychologist, when I hear the term “mental health,” I automatically think more in the direction of illness and dysfunction, instead of in the trajectory of concepts that we need to support now, like emotional wellness and emotional intelligence for success and leadership. The latter terms are exactly how we should be discussing it and normalizing it, especially in circles of high-functioning professionals like physicians, lawyers, and CEOs. Mental health is indeed about maximizing functioning in already high-functioning professionals so that you can reach and maintain the highest version of yourself.
If you don’t have that space, issues can stack up. Burnout leads to depression, and unresolved anxiety and past issues usually get deeper and more complex over time, especially in a high-intensity life. Statistically, the biggest threats to anyone’s physical health in the long-term are heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia … all of which hinge on chronic life stress levels and daily health behaviors … and those relate to how you are managing emotions and feeling RIGHT NOW.
From the severe dysfunction angle of mental health, did you know that physicians have a 2-3x higher rate of suicide as compared to someone in the general population? Shocking and concerning. But why is this? And how do we offer support that will mitigate the stream of difficulty well before the point of any suffering, dysfunction, or increased risk of long-term health issues?
First off, we need to address what has been unaddressed. What haunts you from the past or runs through your mind at 2 am when you can’t sleep? What changes do you feel you need to make? This is what is causing chronic stress and driving reactions that probably don’t serve you well and only stack up. Congrats, you’re human! But not just any human, you are a high-functioning human with a stressful life, which makes consistent practices of emotional wellness and building emotional intelligence that much more important, and ironically, harder to find.
We also know that financial health is directly related to emotional health and is absolutely something to focus on early. Financial issues bring people (especially high-functioners) to the edges of distress. Research shows this, and anecdotally, I have seen this time and time again in my private practice. We as humans need to feel secure and have a stable base from which to grow both emotionally and financially. I have been thrilled to see that BankMD offers a team of professionals to support physicians through financial stabilization, career growth, and successful retirement. I have worked closely with owner Moses Luevano for several years now and I am inspired by his ability to create such a thoughtful and targeted service that effectively supports physicians and their specific needs.
Physicians, as a cohort, are very high-functioning and, drumroll please….perfectionistic (welcome to the club!), which means it can be even harder to digest something that goes wrong or to be open about an issue that could change how people perceive you. Your job is tough and you’ve sacrificed a ton for it. You’re also firing on all levels and have no time. Lastly, confidentiality is crucial to protect what you’ve worked so hard for. It is hard to find a professional who not only understands your life but also is firing at the level that would actually challenge you in a way that feels impressive AND effective. You deserve that.
I challenge you to prioritize your emotional wellness and seek out professionals who specialize in helping physicians. Find the people who make it easier to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your patients and families with less stress…. and most importantly, feel like you are doing life right. In honor of the human factor that we all share, let’s do more intentional work to become the healthiest versions of ourselves and outsource to people who are trained to make that easier.
Please spread the message to your colleagues, trainees, and loved ones – let’s normalize seeking specialized services for mental health and emotional wellness!
Lindsay Bira, Ph.D.
Clinical Health Psychologist
Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry
Lindsay Bira, Ph.D., is a clinical health psychologist, TEDx speaker, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at UT Health San Antonio. She has a clinical research specialty in behavioral medicine and PTSD/trauma. In addition to her faculty role, she runs a telehealth private practice, treating adults and teens for a range of issues, and has a focus in physician wellness. She is hired to speak often and serves as a consultant on projects that seek to incorporate mental health.
Dr. Bira received her Ph.D. in clinical health psychology from the University of Miami. She completed a residency with Harvard Medical School and Boston University School of Medicine before completing an additional 2-year fellowship in trauma psychology. Dr. Bira has been featured by TEDx, Texas Public Radio, Women’s Health Magazine, Headspace, Science, Nature Biotech, and more for her work in PTSD, mindfulness, brain health, and personal growth. Dr. Bira uses a creative, engaging style to communicate brain science and to bridge the gap between the complex (and important) research world and the public. She is passionate about breaking the stigma around mental health to improve wellbeing and values platforms that help her with that mission.
Dr. Bira spends most of her time in Miami, running her multi-state telehealth practice. She is an avid freediver and spearfisher, passionate about the belief that a deeper understanding of science and psychology allows people to live their fullest lives.