About 10-15% of physicians experience addiction, but never seek help. A recent article in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings states “Although the nature and scope of addictive disease are commonly reported in the lay press, the problem of physician addiction has largely escaped the public’s attention. This is not due to physician immunity from the problem, because physicians have been shown to have addiction at a rate similar to or higher than that of the general population. Additionally, physicians’ addictive disease (when compared with the general public) is typically advanced before identification and intervention. This delay in diagnosis relates to physicians’ tendency to protect their workplace performance and image well beyond the time when their life outside of work has deteriorated and become chaotic. ”
Pamela Wible, a family physician dedicated to addressing the mental health needs of doctors, states that most institutions don’t provide sufficient outlets to help physicians manage their depression or suicidal ideation. She states, “Many doctors don’t reach out for help because of privacy issues and high expectations for performance. So, they drive out of town, pay cash, and use fake names to hide from state medical boards, hospitals, and insurance plans out of fear that they will lose state licensure, hospital privileges, and health plan participation”. (See Pamela Wible’s TED Talk here)
Addiction is a complex disorder involving mind, body, and spirit. In this piece, a physician battles with alcohol addiction and is unable to find help. The invocation of the demi-goddess Bhairavi, a defeater of evil and rage, at the end reminds us of the deeper roots addiction has on people and reveals how much strength one needs to overcome it. This piece hopes to expand our assumptions of addiction and support those journeying through it to seek help, especially those physicians who, if ignored, could never find the help they need.
Support Dr. Pamela Wible’s work to stop physician suicide and address mental health here.
Choreography: Supraja Chittari
Music: Metamorphosis by Anoushka Shankar
Performed at the International Human Rights Festival in 2018