Your colleague appears depressed. Now what?


Encountering a colleague who appears depressed or suicidal can be challenging, but experts say the worst thing you can do is turn away.

“Whatever you do, do something,” said Michael F. Myers, MD, professor of clinical psychiatry at State University of New York, Brooklyn. “Don’t leave it to ‘the other guy.’ ”

Below, Dr. Myers and other experts offer advice on how to approach a fellow physician who seems depressed or might be in need of professional help.

1. Reach out to the colleague, and find a private, quiet space to talk.

2. Let them know you’re there for them, and do not pass judgment.

3. Share a short list of reasons for your concerns. For example, “It seems you have lost some weight,” or “You seem sad a lot of the time.”

4. Encourage them to accept help. Refrain from giving them a list of names for professional help. Instead, make the phone call for them or set up the appointment, if necessary.

5. Ask specifically about suicidal ideation. For instance, “Are you having thoughts of hurting yourself?” or “Are you having thoughts of ending your life?” People who are suicidal often want someone to ask and help.

6. Stay with the colleague until he or she has worked out a plan of safety – for example, returned to family/loved ones, visited a physician or mental health professional, gone to an emergency department, or called for an ambulance or other assistance.

7. Accompany the colleague to the emergency department or call 911.

8. Remember these two goals: Inquire about safety/danger. Ensure safety of the individual.

Sources: Dr. Myers, Dr. Zisook, and Dr. Yellowlees.

For more information, contact the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (www.afsp.org), and the 24-hour crisis line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Late last year, the Federal Communications Commission approved plans to designate 988 as a suicide prevention hotline number. Implementation of the proposal is expected to take several months.

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