After experiencing multiple colleagues die by suicide, Jon Courand, MD, Assistant Dean for Wellness in GME, an intensive care pediatrician at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio), saw an urgent need: access for physicians to trusted and confidential mental health support.
The leadership at UT Health San Antonio implemented the Interactive Screening Program (ISP), created by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Physicians and residents use ISP’s online self-assessment tool to screen for stress, depression and other mental health concerns, and counselors personally respond to address their specific concerns, provide counseling and share mental health resources. These conversations can go on as long as a physician wants support; at UT Health San Antonio, ISP counselors Drs. Adriana Dyurich and Veena Prasad have worked with physicians for as short as a few days to nearly two years.
“ISP is so important because it opens the doorway to conversations about mental health and help-seeking,” said Laura Hoffman, ISP Director at AFSP. “It ensures that physicians feel supported and are able to recognize that taking care of themselves is just as important as taking care of their patients.”
Stigma and regulatory barriers often prevent physicians from seeking the care they need. A critical component of ISP is that it is completely anonymous and confidential, with only a User ID identifying individuals. At UT Health San Antonio, counselors can meet physicians for face-to-face counseling appointments, but they can also continue communication exclusively through the anonymous ISP platform.
“There are many people who probably would never reach out and discuss the issues they are facing without the promise of it being anonymous and completely confidential,” said Dr. Dyurich.
Over time, Drs. Dyurich and Prasad have helped ISP to grow and flourish throughout UT Health San Antonio. They focus on providing care that is validating and empathetic to address issues like suicidality, anxiety, depression, as well as helping people navigate unsafe or violent situations. The counselors often share local resources with physicians depending on their personal situation.
UT Health San Antonio takes a proactive approach with ISP to encourage physicians to seek help before an emergency. With support from leadership, Drs. Dyurich and Prasad share information about ISP at key meetings and presentations, including orientations, department leadership meetings and more.
Physicians who participate in ISP at UT Health San Antonio have overwhelmingly positive feedback and are grateful to have a safe space to seek support. Their response rate is slightly above the national average, with 13-15% of people responding to a questionnaire, totaling about 130-150 responses a year. Even without responses, the self-assessment tool itself provides a way for physicians to check in with their mental health and wellbeing.
Recently, a UT Health San Antonio resident expressed that using the ISP program saved their life. “This is clear confirmation that ISP is making a difference, and we encourage other institutions to implement this incredible program,” said Dr. Prasad.
For more information, visit uthscsa.edu/medicine/education/gme/wellness