Category Archives: Mental Illness

When This War Is Over, Many of Us Will Leave Medicine and the Stresses of Healthcare Workers on All Fronts

One ER physician recounts the stress of constant intubations and PPE shortages

Michele Harper reviews the stress of our frontline healthcare workers and here is a case.

I couldn’t see. My face shield was blurred by a streaky haze. I tilted my neck back and forth in an effort to peer beyond it, beneath it, through it, whatever might work. Was it condensation? I started to raise my hands to my face to wipe it away before I remembered and yanked them back down: I cannot touch my face, can’t ever touch my face — neither inside this room nor outside it.

As I stood at the head of the patient’s bed in ER Room 3, her nurse, Kate, secured a mask over the patient’s face to deliver additional oxygen. I checked to ensure the oxygen was cranked up to the maximum flow rate while we waited for the respiratory therapist. Even with that increased oxygen, the patient was saturating 85% at best, and her blood pressure was dropping.

Ninety minutes earlier, the patient — a woman of 68 years with significant impairment from a stroke — had been fine. The nurse at her nursing home called to inform us they were sending the patient to the ER for evaluation of “altered mental status” because she was less “perky” than usual. Her oxygen level on arrival was normal with no shortness of breath. Her blood pressure was a little low, but her blood glucose read high. Nothing a little IV fluid couldn’t fix, and initially, it did.

I had requested a rectal temperature; it read 103 degrees. The combination of her being a nursing home resident and running a fever was a red flag during these coronavirus times. I placed her on respiratory isolation and asked Kate to be extra vigilant for any decline. I ordered broad-spectrum antibiotics to kill any likely source of infection while I awaited her chest X-ray, urine, and blood tests. Her portable chest X-ray was done first and revealed what I had already anticipated: diffuse atypical infiltrates, a presumed telltale sign of Covid-19. Although our understanding of this viral infection is ever-evolving, it seems the only observation we can reliably conclude is that we have not yet identified anything pathognomonic about it.

Seventy-five minutes later, another nurse, Charlene, called, “They need you in Room 3.”

“Okay,” I replied as I entered orders on the next chest pain patient with shortness of breath.

“Dr. Harper, they need you in Room 3 now,” Charlene called again.

“Room 3? The nursing home patient? I’ll be right there. What happened?”

“Her oxygen is at 67%.”

I asked the clerk to call respiratory therapy for intubation. I then turned back to Charlene to ask her to help Kate prepare for the procedure.

Then the personal protective equipment (PPE) sequence. I grabbed gloves to remove my N95 mask from its paper bag and placed it over my face, checking it was snug over my nose and lower jaw. After removing those gloves, I donned my face shield, then walked to the cart for a new gown. Lastly, a fresh set of gloves before entering the patient’s room.

I was scared, and I don’t get scared. Other doctors do, but not ER doctors. We don’t scare easily.

Now I waited for the respiratory therapist. It was good that she needed extra time to get the ventilator and then don her PPE because I had to figure out why I couldn’t see without manually manipulating my face shield. My thoughts were pierced by the sound of panting. I checked the patient who was taking the oxygen quietly, rapidly, ineffectively at regular intervals that didn’t register a sound. Her eyes remained closed—no flip of an eyelash, no wince of her forehead, no twitch in a limb. Despite her instability, the patient was in no visible distress. No heaving breath there. The nurse to my left was concentrating on the patient’s oxygen. I heard only the crinkle of her gown as she adjusted her stance. The panting wasn’t hers. The nurse to my right prepared to administer the intubation medications. He read out my orders — the name and dose of the medication in each syringe and the order in which they were to be pushed. His voice was steady. It wasn’t him hyperventilating. The nurse just outside of the room kept documentation of the procedure on scrap paper she used to carefully transcribe each detail onto her laptop. She was too far away to be heard unless she yelled, so that audible breathing certainly wasn’t hers.

The panting was my own.

A hailstorm of thoughts ensued. Was my breath the fog on my face shield? If so, my N95 mask had a leak. Unsuspecting, had I already inhaled the virus? Would I be intubated next?

The respiratory therapist had arrived with the ventilator and put on her face shield. She was almost ready, so there was little time to pull myself together.

Breathe in, I commanded myself: One, two, three. Breathe out. I obeyed: One, two, three, four.

Was I already short of breath? Had I not noticed my symptoms when I drove to work this morning? Yesterday? Last night?

Breathe in. One two, three. Breathe out. One, two, three, four.

I was scared, and I don’t get scared. Other doctors do, but not ER doctors. We don’t scare easily. We’re a type of special forces who step in when everything else has failed. Typically, we do our job anonymously then leave when the mission is complete. Any injury to ourselves incurred in the line of duty is dealt with after we’re off the clock.

Once in a while, however, there are circumstances when the capacity to compartmentalize is overwhelmed, when the chronic stress breaks through so that the fear works on you. Now, as I stood at the patient’s bed with the video laryngoscope blade in one hand and the endotracheal tube in the other, panic pushed its way through me in involuntary. forceful. rapid. shallow. breaths.

Breathe in on one, two, three. Breathe out on one, two, three, four.

The respiratory therapist slapped on her gloves and in moments was at my side. It was time for intubation.

Breathe in on three and out on four.

At last, my breathing was smooth, measured, sound.

I looked through my mask again. It wasn’t condensation. It was streaks from the sanitizing wipes because we had to reuse our equipment.

I adjusted my eyes to the clear spaces. Finally, I could see. My N95 mask fit. I could breathe.

The room was relatively quiet, what I like to call “ER calm.” All was still, save for the bagging of respiratory therapy, save for the swoosh of oxygen jetting from its port aerosolizing everything.

I requested that the intubation medications be administered then checked for a response. After visualizing the vocal cords easily with the video laryngoscope, I slid in the endotracheal tube, and respiratory connected it to the vent. The patient’s oxygen increased to 100% on the monitor.

Those of us who survive will return each day to battle. But when this war is over, this is why many of us will leave.

Doffing my gown and gloves, I put on new gloves to remove and sanitize my face shield. I couldn’t imagine there was a way to effectively clean the foam band across the forehead. I hoped to remove the streaks. I also hoped the impossible: to remove the virus, because it was the same shield I had to use repeatedly during my shift. I took off the N95. We’re now told that we can reuse it, too, numerous times before getting a new one due to the PPE shortages, so I put the contaminated mask back in the bag until I would need to do it again for the next patient.

This is how we get infected. This is how we die.

Those of us who survive will return each day to battle because we do not walk away from war until it’s done. But when this war is over, this is why many of us will leave.

I walked to the back of the ER to use the restroom in the seven minutes before the patient was ready for CT and saw my ER director standing in the lounge. I waved hello.

“How did it go?” she asked, her eyes gentle, her smile sympathetic.

“It went,” I replied.

“How did you feel in the PPE? Did you feel protected?”

I paused to regulate my answer. Her intentions were good. She was an ER doctor who did her best to walk the fine line between the docs on the front lines and the administrators who notified me that “doctors don’t get paid sick leave” and “thank you for your service,” which were graciously sent out in two separate emails. Just another reminder that we health care providers are regarded as more disposable than our PPE. But this wasn’t her fault, so I felt responsible, in that moment, for her feelings too.

I pulled in my tone. “No. That equipment doesn’t protect us. There’s no way that we’re not all covered in Covid, but we’re following the ‘guidelines.’”

She nodded and frowned.

“Honestly,” I continued, “and I hate to say this, but my feeling is that the majority of people will have contracted this virus. Most people will get through it, and others won’t. Many will die. I don’t want any of us to die, but many health care providers will. The thing is, it’s impossible to know which camp we’re in until it happens.”

She nodded again.

We smiled at each other, and I continued to the bathroom. I washed my hands, turning them over each other, lathering the soap along each finger, under each nail. As I dried my hands, I looked up at the mirror, noting that my breath was now imperceptible when my phone rang.

A FaceTime request from my nine-year-old nephew, Eli.

My policy used to be to not answer the phone at work unless it was critical. But this is a different era. Eli is sheltering-in-place at a military base in California while his mother, my sister, is away for deployment.

I swiped the phone to answer. “Hi, Eli!”

“Hello, Aunt,” he announced more softly than usual. His eyelids hovered low, and his eyes weren’t their typical bright.

“How are you, Eli?” I inquired, masking my concern.

“I’m good.” He smiled with sleepy eyes. “I just woke up.” He yawned; his bushy eyebrows raised high. Years ago, he said his eyebrows were the indisputable evidence that Frida Kahlo was his great, great grandmother so he had to meet her forthwith. Upon being told that she had already passed away, he cried for the woman he had decided was his long-lost ancestor. Now, as he yawned again, his thick eyelashes shut tight. His head drifted back and his mouth reeled open expelling the strongest exhale of the bravest lion cub.

Smiling to myself, I sighed easily.

He breathed.

I breathed.

Today we are OK.

Anxiety on the Frontlines of COVID-19 

It’s not just healthcare workers’ physical health but also their mental health that’s suffering

Richard van Zyl-Smit, M.D./PhD described to a friend this week the current feeling of being in the hospital with COVID-19, as like sitting under a 1,000V high-tension electricity cable: there is a constant humming above your head, which is unnerving and just does not go away.

Two years ago, he published a book called They Don’t Award Nobel Prizes to Dead People about my experience as an academic clinician with a stress-induced anxiety disorder. The context is very different now, but the lessons I learned in that time might be of help to those of you feeling this intangible “humming” — a sense of anxiety that is neither defined nor visible even with no COVID patient contact — and for those of you who are caring daily for COVID-19 patients.

The first and most important aspect of this time is to recognize that anxiety is real. This is not something you might have experienced before. For those of us who have previously or currently suffer from anxiety, it is easily recognizable for what it is, but you may never have experienced it quite like this. You are not losing your mind or losing control, you are experiencing a loss of control of your environment. In many ways, the daily changing updates, the ever-changing schedules and call rosters are unsettling at best and can be completely unnerving as we can’t be certain from one day to the next. There is not a lot you can do about it, except to acknowledge it and talk about it.

The second aspect relates directly to that gnawing “hum.”

I learned previously the benefit of and strongly believe in “downtime.” Getting away from the humming, which is not so easy anymore as we don’t have rugby or soccer scores to get excited or depressed about, we don’t have news about politics or current affairs — except COVID, COVID, COVID. I used to play Candy Crush to get my mind off work and to get away from the “hum,” but recognized that did not accomplish much — it just kept my mind going, and the anxiety was still there. I now try to be creative, to garden, draw, write, crochet (see below), paint, anything that I can do that takes the focus off my work.

Exercise is great too — but now restricted to indoors! I don’t look at the hundreds of WhatsApp group messages unless I am at work; the latest medical publication of how I should treat my ventilated COVID-19 patient on my next week on call is not important when I am at home.

I am convinced that switching off the social media, medical media, and media media when you are not working is vital for your mental health. For some, it might mean no social media, for others less, but getting out from under the electricity cable when you can, is an important way to ensure your own sustainability over the next few months.

The last aspect relates to relationships: physical distance is key — but find, and seek out the people who can support you; keep talking to each other, be kind to each other and to yourself, and talk about the anxiety, fears, worries, or stress. Professional services are available to those feeling very out of control, but simply talking with someone is a fantastic way to get the humming out of your head.

As much as we need to care for our COVID-19 patients and protect ourselves with PPE, we also need to look after ourselves and protect our mental health. It is not a sign of weakness but requires courage and bravery to ask for help.

“Asking for help is not giving up, it is refusing to give up.” — Charlie Mackesy

We are all in this together — we need to be kind to each other and to ourselves.

India coronavirus doctors: Notes on hope, fear and longing Reporter Vikas Pandey shows us how the Corona virus is affecting doctors in India. Dr Milind Baldi was on duty in a Covid-19 ward when a 46-year-old man was wheeled in  with severe breathing difficulty.

The man was scared for his life and kept repeating one question: “Will I survive?”

The question was followed by a plea: “Please save me, I don’t want to die.” Dr Baldi assured the man that he was going to do “everything possible to save him”.

These were the last words spoken between the two men. The patient was put on a ventilator, and died two days later. The doctor, who works in a hospital in the central Indian city of Indore, vividly remembers the 30 “terrifying minutes” after the patient was brought to his hospital.

“He kept holding my hands. His eyes were full of fear and pain. I will never forget his face.”

His death deeply affected Dr Baldi. “It ate away my soul from inside and left a lacuna in my heart.” Seeing patients die in critical care wards is not uncommon for doctors like him. But, he says, nothing can compare to the psychological stress of working in a Covid-19 ward.

Most coronavirus patients are kept in isolation, which means, if they become critically ill, doctors and nurses are the only people they see in their final hours.

“No doctor ever wants to be in this scenario,” says Dr A Fathahudeen, who heads the critical care department at Ernakulam Medical College in southern India.

Doctors say they usually share the emotional burden of treating someone with that person’s family. But Covid-19 doesn’t allow that. Dr Fathahudeen says he will never forget “the blankness in the eyes” of a Covid-19 patient who died in his hospital.

“He wasn’t able to talk. But his eyes reflected the pain and the fear he was experiencing.” Dr Fathahudeen felt helpless because the patient was going to die alone. But there was a tiny sliver of hope: the man’s wife was being treated for coronavirus in the same hospital.

So, Dr Fathahudeen brought her to the ward. She stood still and kept looking at him and said her goodbye. She never thought her 40-year marriage would end so abruptly.

The experienced doctor says the incident left him “emotionally consumed”. But, he adds, there was “some satisfaction that he didn’t die without seeing his wife”. “But that won’t always happen. The harsh truth is that some patients will die without saying goodbye to their loved ones.”

The emotional toll is made much worse as many doctors are themselves in a form of isolation – most are staying away from their families to protect them. As a result, Dr Mir Shahnawaz, who works at the Government Chest Hospital in Srinagar, says it’s “not just the disease we are fighting with”.

“Imagine not knowing when you will see your family next, add that to the constant fear that you may get infected and you will begin to understand what we are going through.”

Adding to the stress, is the fact that they also have to constantly deal with the emotional outbursts of patients. “They are very scared and we have to keep them calm – be their friend and doctor at the same time.”

And doctors also have to make phone calls to the families of patients, and deal with their fears too. The whole process, Dr Shahnawaz says, is emotionally draining.

“It hits you when you go back to your room in the night. Then there is the fear of the unknown – we don’t know how bad the situation will get.”

Doctors are used to saving lives, he adds, and “we will continue to do that no matter what”. “But the truth is that we are also human beings and we are also scared.” He says that the first coronavirus death in his hospital made his colleagues break down: it was when they realized that Covid-19 doesn’t afford the family a final glimpse of their loved one.

“Family members want to remember the final moments of a patient – a faint smile, a few last words, anything really to hold on to. But they can’t even give a proper burial to the dead.”

Dr Fathahudeen says such psychological pressure needs to be addressed and each hospital needs to have a psychiatrist – both for doctors and patients. “This is something I have done in my hospital. It’s important because otherwise the emotional scars will be too deep to heal. We are staring at cases of PTSD among frontline workers.”

Doorstep doctors

It is not just those working in Covid-19 wards who are on the front line, but also the doctors, community health workers and officials who are involved in contact tracing and screening suspected patients by going door-to-door in virus hotspots.

Dr Varsha Saxena, who works in the badly affected northern city of Jaipur, says she walks into grave danger knowingly every day. Her job is to screen people for possible symptoms. “There is no other option. It’s the fight of our lifetime, but one can’t ignore the risks,” she says. “But it poses great risk because we don’t know who among the ones, we are screening is actually positive,” she adds.

She says doctors like her don’t always get proper medical-grade personal protective equipment. “The fear of getting infected is always there and we have to live with it. It does play on our mind and we have to fight hard to keep such negative thoughts away.”

But her biggest fear, she says, is getting infected and not showing any symptoms. “Then the risk is that we may end up infecting others. That is why field doctors also need PPE,” she adds. And the stress, sometimes, also comes home.

“It’s so draining. My husband is also a doctor, most nights we don’t even have energy to cook and our dinner involves just bread.”

Aqueel Khan, a bureaucrat and a colleague of Dr Saxena, acknowledges that psychological stress is a reality for all frontline workers, including officers like him who are embedded with medical teams. The fear really comes home for these workers when somebody close to them dies.

“I lost my uncle and a friend recently. It shook me, I can’t stop thinking about them. You can’t stop thinking that it can easily happen to you,” he says.

Mr. Khan is also staying away from his family: this year is the first time he will miss his daughter’s birthday. “My heart says to go home and see her from far, but the mind tells me otherwise. This constant struggle is very stressful.

“But we can’t turn our backs on the job. We just have to just keep at it, hoping that we come out alive on the other side of this fight.” ‘The risk is always there’

There is no respite for doctors and nurses even when they are not directly involved in the fight against coronavirus. People with other ailments are continuing to come to hospitals. And there has also been a surge in the number of people who are turning up at hospitals with coronavirus-like symptoms.

Dr Mohsin Bin Mushtaq, who works at the GMC Hospital in Indian-administered Kashmir, says coronavirus has “fundamentally changed our lives”. “We are seeing patients every day for other ailments. But the risk is always there that some of them could be infected,” he said.

And it worries him even more when he reads about doctors getting infected despite wearing PPE and dying. A number of doctors have died in India and dozens have tested positive. There is nothing we can do about it, he says, adding that “we just have to be mentally strong and do our jobs”.

Dr Mehnaz Bhat and Dr Sartaz Bhat also work in the same hospital, and they say that the “fear among patients is too much”. Dr Sartaz says people with a slight cold end up thinking they have coronavirus, and rush to the hospital. “So apart from treating them, we also have to deal with their fear,” Dr Sartaz adds.

He recently diagnosed Covid-19 symptoms in a patient and advised him to go for testing. But his family refused and took him away. The patient was brought back to the hospital after Dr Sartaz called the police. He says he had never imagined doing something like this in his medical career. “This is the new normal.”

The way patients are examined has also changed for some doctors. “We really have to try and limit close interactions with patients,” Dr Mehnaz Bhat says. “But it’s not what we have been trained for. So much has changed so quickly, it’s stressful,” she says.

And several attacks on doctors and nurses across the country have made them even more worried. She says it’s difficult to understand why anybody would attack doctors. “We are saving lives, risking our lives every day. We need love, not fear.” she adds.

And even worse:

E.R. doc on COVID-19 ‘front lines’ died by suicide                             To show how serious the stress is seen in this report by Cory Siemaszko reported that a New York City emergency room doctor who was on the “front lines” of the fight against the coronavirus has died by suicide, police said Monday. Dr. Lorna Breen, 49, who worked at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, was in Virginia when she died on Sunday, said Tyler Hawn, a spokesman for the Charlottesville Police Department.

“The victim was taken to U.V.A. Hospital for treatment, but later succumbed to self-inflicted injuries,” Hawn said.

It was her father, Dr. Phillip Breen, who revealed the first details about his daughter’s tragic death. “She tried to do her job, and it killed her,” he told The New York Times. “She was truly in the trenches of the front line.”

He said his daughter seemed very detached of late and that she had described some of the horrors she had witnessed at the hospital while battling the virus. “Make sure she’s praised as a hero, because she was,” Phillip Breen said. “She’s a casualty just as much as anybody else who has died.”

The hospital confirmed Lorna Breen’s death in a statement released by chief spokesperson Lucky Tran, but gave few other details. “Words cannot convey the sense of loss we feel today,” the statement said. “Dr. Breen is a hero who brought the highest ideals of medicine to the challenging front lines of the emergency department. Our focus today is to provide support to her family, friends, and colleagues as they cope with this news during what is already an extraordinarily difficult time.”

NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital has 200 beds, is in northern Manhattan and is one of the seven hospitals that make up NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

Infectious Disease Expert Makes Chilling Prediction for States Reopening Amid Pandemic                                                                 Reporter Lee Moran noted that infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm warned that the states starting to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic “will pay a big price later on.”

Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday that states like Georgia, Colorado and others that are easing social distancing restrictions were “putting gasoline on fire.”

“I think right now, this is one of the things we’ve learned, if we’re going to learn to live with this, then you just don’t walk in the face of it and spit in its eye, because it will hit you,” said Osterholm. “And I think that that’s a really important issue right now,” he continued. “When we have transmission increasing, when our hospitals are not able to take care of it and we don’t have enough testing to even know what’s going on, then that’s not the time to loosen up.”

Osterholm suggested it was “the worst example of how to start this discussion” about the “loosening” of society. “I wouldn’t do it,” he added. “I fear that these states will have to pay a big price later on because of what they’re doing.”

COVID-19: National Psychiatrist-Run Hotline Offers Docs Emotional PPE                                                                                              Emily Sohn reported that Mona Masood, DO, a Philadelphia-area psychiatrist and moderator of a Facebook forum called the COVID-19 Physicians Group, reviewed post after post about her colleagues’ fears, anxieties, and the crushing pressure to act like a hero, inspiration struck. Would it be possible, she wondered, to create a resource through which psychiatrists would be available to provide frontline physicians with some emotional personal protective equipment (PPE)?

She floated the idea in the Facebook forum, which has more than 30,000 members. The response was immediate. “All these psychiatrists just started contacting me, saying, ‘Please let me be a part of this. I want to volunteer,’ ” she told Medscape Medical News.

On March 30, Masood launched the Physician Support Line, a free mental health hotline exclusively for doctors. Within the first 3 weeks, the hotline logged more than 3000 minutes of call time. Some physicians have called repeatedly, and early feedback suggests the resource is meeting a vast need.

“Most of the cases have a lot of emotion from both sides. There are a lot of tears, a lot of relief,” said Masood.

“If Not Me, Then Who?”

Physicians have been facing mental health challenges long before the pandemic, and doctors have long struggled with stigma in seeking psychological help, says Katherine Gold, MD, a family medicine physician at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who studies physician well-being, suicide, and mental health.

As a whole, physicians tend to be perfectionists and have high expectations of themselves. That combination can set them up for mental distress, Gold notes. Studies that have focused mainly on medical students and residents show that nearly 30% have experienced depression. Physicians are also at significant risk of dying by suicide.

Compounding the issue is the fact that physicians are also often reluctant to seek help, and institutional stigma is one persistent reason, Gold says. Many states require annual license renewal applications in which physicians are asked questions about mental health. Doctors fear they’ll lose their licenses if they seek psychological help, so they don’t pursue it.

A study conducted by Gold and colleagues that analyzed data from 2003 to 2008 showed that compared to the general public, physicians who died by suicide were less likely to have consulted mental health experts, less likely to have been diagnosed with mental health problems, and less likely to have antidepressants in their system at the time of death.

The COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate these trends, suggests a recent study from China in which investigators surveyed 1257 healthcare workers in January and February.

Results revealed that a significant proportion of respondents had symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress. This was especially true among women, nurses, those in Wuhan, and frontline healthcare workers who were directly engaged in diagnosing, treating, or caring for patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

As Masood watched similar concerns accumulate on the COVID-19 Physicians Group Facebook forum, she decided to take action. She says her mentality was, “If not me, then who?”

Assisted by a team of experts, she created the hotline without any funding but with pro bono contributions of legal and ethical work, and she received a heavy discount from a company called Telzio, which developed the hotline app.

The hotline is open daily from 8:00 AM to midnight Eastern Time, and calls are free. Services are available only to physicians, in part because as a group, doctors tend to harbor guilt about asking for help that someone else might need more, Masood says.

When other types of healthcare workers call in, volunteers redirect them to hotlines set up for first responders and other healthcare providers.

So far, more than 600 psychiatrists have volunteered. They sign up for hour-long shifts, which they fit in between their own patients. Two or three psychiatrists are available each hour. Calls come directly through the app to their phones. There is no time limit on calls. If calls run long, psychiatrists either stay on past their shifts or pass the call to another volunteer.

Since its launch, the number of calls has steadily increased, Masood says. Callers include ICU doctors, anesthesiologists, surgeons, emergency department doctors, and some physicians in private practice who, Masood says, often express guilt for not being on the front lines.

Some physicians call in every week at a certain time as part of their self-care routine. Others call late at night after their families are in bed. If indicated, psychiatrists refer callers for follow-up care to a website that has compiled a list of psychiatrists across the United States who offer telehealth services.

There are no rules about what physicians can discuss when they call the hotline, and popular topics have evolved over time, says Masood. In the first week after the hotline’s launch, many callers were anxious about what the future held, and they saw other hospitals becoming overwhelmed. They worried about how they could prepare themselves and protect their families.

By the second week, when more doctors were in the thick of the pandemic and were working long hours, sometimes alone or covering shifts for infected colleagues, there were concerns about coworkers. Some were grieving the loss of patients and family members. The lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), says Masood, has been a common topic of conversation from the beginning.

Given the many unknowns about the virus, physicians have also grappled with the uncertainty around safety protocols for patients and for themselves.

On a deeper level, physicians have expressed a desire to run away, to stop going to work, or to quit medicine altogether. These escape fantasies are a normal part of the fight-or-flight response to stress, Masood says.

Doctors often feel they can’t share their fears, even with family members, in part because of societal pressures to act like heroes on the front lines of what has been framed as a war, she adds.

Heroes aren’t supposed to complain or show vulnerability, Masood says, and this can make it hard for physicians to get the support they need. Through the hotline, psychiatrists give doctors permission to feel what they are feeling, and that can help motivate them to go back to work.

“They don’t want to look like cowards, because that’s the opposite of a hero,” she said. “Saying it to another doctor feels much better because we get it, and we normalize that for them. It’s normal to feel that way.”

Each week, Masood conducts debriefing sessions with volunteers, who talk about conversations filled with raw emotion. When conversations wind down, most physicians express gratitude.

They tell volunteers that just knowing the hotline is there provides them with an emotional safety net. Masood says many physicians tell volunteers, “I know that if anything’s going wrong, I can just call and somebody will be there.” Volunteers, too, say they are benefiting from being involved.

“We are all really having this desperate need to be there for one another right now. We truly feel like no one gets it as much as we get one another,” said Masood.

Long-term Fallout

The need for psychiatric care is unlikely to end after the pandemic retreats, and Masood’s plan is to keep the hotline running as long as it’s needed. Like the rest of the world, physicians are in survival mode, but she expects a wave of grief to hit when the immediate danger ends. Some might blame themselves for patient deaths or question what they could have done differently. The long-term impact of trauma is definitely a concern, Gold says. Physicians in the ER and ICU are seeing many patients who decline quickly and die alone, and they witness young, previously healthy people succumb to the virus.

They’re seeing these kinds of cases over and over, and they’re often doing it in an environment where they don’t feel safe or supported while people in many places stage protests against the measures they feel are helping protect them.

Like veterans returning from war, they will need to reflect on what they’ve experienced after the adrenaline is gone and there is time to think.

“Even when things calm down, it will be great to have resources like this still functioning that can help folks think back through what they’ve been through and how to process that,” Gold said. “Things are going to remind them of experiences they had during COVID, and they can’t predict that right now. There will be a need for the support to go on.”

Masood is optimistic that the pandemic will bring the issue of physicians’ mental health out of the shadows.

“We have a really deep feeling of hope that that there’s going to be a lot more empathy for one another after this,” she said. “There’s going to be a willingness to not take mental health for granted. Doctors are people, too.”

We understand about those on the frontline of this pandemic. But do you all realize that many physicians and nurses are being furloughed during this pandemic due to elimination of elective surgery, many of which are necessary such as transplants and cancer treatments and surgery as well as limitation of their practice during this pandemic.

How do physicians pay their malpractice insurance and pay their staff and overhead and their huge education loans?

I fear that we may see a mass quitting/retirement of many nurses and physicians in our country and maybe world wide or many suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome).

What then happens to our healthcare system? Will this pandemic force Congress to finally get serious regarding improving our healthcare system for All?

Fact Check: Are there ‘more gun deaths by far’ in America than any other country? And what is the GOP going to do about IT?

Screen Shot 2019-08-26 at 9.19.29 PMThis is another very long post but gun violence and the solutions need to be center stage going forward. We in health care see the results of gun violence every day in our hospitals, ERs, and offices. Texan Beto O’Rourke joined nine other Democrats on stage in Detroit on Tuesday for the second round of debates in the Democratic presidential primary contest. All of the candidates made questionable statements — take a look at some fact-checking from the night — including O’Rourke, who was asked to respond to a comment about gun violence from Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.

Bullock said that Washington, D.C., “is captured by dark money” and political influence from the likes of the NRA and Koch Industries, making it hard for lawmakers to tackle issues like gun safety.

“That’s the way we’re actually going to make a change on this, Don, is by changing that system,” Bullock said, addressing moderator Don Lemon of CNN. “And most of the things that folks are talking about on this stage we’re not going to address until we kick dark money and the post-Citizens United corporate spending out of these elections.”

Lemon asked O’Rourke to respond to Bullock’s point.

“How else can we explain that we lose nearly 40,000 people in this country to gun violence, a number that no other country comes even close to, that we know what all the solutions are, and yet nothing has changed?” O’Rourke said. “It is because, in this country, money buys influence, access and, increasingly, outcomes.”

We assumed O’Rourke was talking about the number of gun deaths in the United States in the past year, a figure supported by federal data. But is O’Rourke right that no other country comes close to the number of deaths by gun violence in the United States? We took a look.

By Chris Nichols on Tuesday, August 6th, 2019 at 5:32 p.m.

Following the recent mass shootings in Gilroy, California and El Paso, Texas, and just hours before a separate mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein made a sweeping statement about the number of guns and gun deaths in America.

“There are more guns in this country than people and more per capita than any other country in the world. And there are more gun deaths by far,” Feinstein, a strong advocate for gun control, said on Twitter on Aug. 3, 2019. “I continue to hope that opponents of commonsense gun reform laws will come to their senses and join the effort to save lives.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, posted this tweet on Aug. 3, 2019.

As of early this week, 22 people were killed in the El Paso shooting, nine in Dayton and three in Gilroy. The suspected gunmen in Dayton and Gilroy also died.

We examined each part of Feinstein’s statement but found we couldn’t place a Truth-O-Meter rating on the first two parts because there’s no official count on the number of guns in America and there are competing estimates on how many exist.

We did place a rating on the last portion about America having “more gun deaths by far” than any other country.

We’ll provide analysis on each piece of Feinstein’s statement below.

Feinstein on guns

First, here’s some background on the senator. In 1994, she authored the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which was signed by President Bill Clinton. It prohibited the manufacture of 19 specific kinds of military-style, semi-automatic firearms, often called assault weapons.

It also banned the manufacture and sale of gun magazines that hold more than 10 bullets.

The bill expired in 2004 after efforts to extend it failed in Congress.

Its restrictions did not apply to any semi-automatic weapons or magazines made before the ban’s effective date: Sept. 13, 1994.

Feinstein has remained an advocate for gun control. In February of this year, she introduced a bill that would pay for states to create their own extreme-risk protection laws, also known as red flag laws.

Those would allow family members to petition for a court order to “grant law enforcement the authority to temporarily take weapons from dangerous individuals who present a threat to themselves or others,” according to Feinstein’s office.

California, Maryland, and Florida have already enacted similar laws.

“There are more guns in this country than people” 

There are no official count of the number of firearms in the United States, only widely varying estimates, as PolitiFact has reported in the past.

As the Pew Research Center has observed: “Gun ownership is one of the hardest things for researchers to pin down.”

We found estimates as low as 265 million civilian guns in the U.S. in January 2015 — to as high as 393 million in a report last year.

Researchers say estimates can include guns that no longer work, leading to an overcount. Meanwhile, some survey respondents will understate the number of guns they own, leading to an undercount.

With no definitive tally, we decided not to place a rating on this portion of Feinstein’s statement.

“More (guns) per capita than any other country in the world”

This second part of the claim is generally on the right track, whether looking at the high estimates for guns in America or the lower ones. But again it relies on a topic for which there’s no settled data.

Taking the estimate of 393 million civilian firearms, there would be 120.5 guns for every 100 residents in the United States. As The Washington Post reported, that’s twice the per capita rate of the next-highest nation, Yemen, with just 52.8 guns per 100 residents.

Using the lower estimate of 265 million guns in 2015 would still produce about 83 guns for every 100 Americans that year.

While this part of Feinstein’s claim is likely more accurate, the per capita rate doesn’t mean all Americans own guns. Instead, gun ownership is concentrated among a minority of the US population — as surveys from the Pew Research Center and General Social Survey suggest, according to the Post.

“More gun deaths by far” in the United States?

This part of Feinstein’s statement is not supported. We found the United States experiences more firearm injury deaths than other countries of similar socioeconomic standing. But that’s not what Feinstein claimed. She suggested it had “more gun deaths by far” than any other country.

In 2017, Brazil had the most overall gun deaths of any country at 48,493, including homicides, suicides and unintentional gun deaths, according to a June 2018 report by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The United States had the second most overall gun deaths at 40,229, though it had the highest suicide by a gun total of any nation, at nearly 25,000. Data from the report showed Brazil had the most overall gun deaths at least from 2015 through 2017.

“Yes, Brazil is highest by number” for overall gun deaths, the study’s author, Professor Moshen Naghavi, said by email.

“We believe 2018 and 2019 will be higher,” Naghavi said in a follow-up phone interview, citing decisions made by Brazil’s new president to make firearms more accessible.

Feinstein’s office did not respond to our request for information supporting this portion of her statement.

PolitiFact Texas fact-checked a similar claim last week by former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and rated it Mostly False. O’Rourke said at the Democratic presidential debate in Detroit that “we lose nearly 40,000 people in this country to gun violence, a number that no other country comes even close to.” It cited the University of Washington study and noted that more than a dozen countries had more firearm deaths per capita than the United States in 2016.

Our rating

Sen. Dianne Feinstein claimed, “There are more guns in this country than people and more per capita than any other country in the world. And there are more gun deaths by far.”

We could not place a rating on the first two parts because there are no official count of guns in America, only widely varying estimates.

The last part of her statement, however, is not supported. A recent study showed Brazil, not the United States, had the most overall gun deaths of any country over the last several years. America, however, had the highest total of suicides by firearm of any nation.

In the end, she was wrong that there are “more gun deaths by far” in the United States than any other country in the world.  Here are two charts/tables with data.

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We rate that portion of her claim False.

FALSE – The statement is not accurate.

America’s gun culture in charts

Two mass shootings within 24 hours, leaving 31 people dead, has once again brought the spotlight on gun ownership in the United States.

An attack on a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas on Saturday left 20 dead, while nine died in a shooting in Dayton, Ohio on Sunday.

But where does America stand on the right to bear arms and gun control?

What do young people think about gun control?

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When looking at the period before the Parkland school shooting in 2018, it is interesting to track how young people have felt about gun control.

Support for gun control over the protection of gun rights in America is highest among 18 to 29-year-olds, according to a study by the Pew Research Centre, with a spike after the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016. The overall trend though suggests a slight decrease in support for gun control over gun rights since 2000.

Pew found that one-third of over-50s said they owned a gun. The rate of gun ownership was lower for younger adults – about 28%. White men are especially likely to own a gun.

How does the US compare with other countries?

I included two charts in the previous discussion and here are two more.

About 40% of Americans say they own a gun or live in a household with one, according to a 2017 survey, and the rate of murder or manslaughter by firearm is the highest in the developed world. There were almost 11,000 deaths as a result of murder or manslaughter involving a firearm in 2017.

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Homicides are taken here to include murder and manslaughter. The FBI separates statistics for what it calls justifiable homicide, which includes the killing of a criminal by a police officer or private citizen in certain circumstances, which are not included.

In about 13% of cases, the FBI does not have data on the weapon used. By removing these cases from the overall total of gun deaths in the US, the proportion of gun-related killings rises to 73% of homicides.

Who owns the world’s guns?

While it is difficult to know exactly how many guns civilians own around the world, by every estimate the US with more than 390 million is far out in front.

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Switzerland and Finland are two of the European countries with the most guns per person – they both have compulsory military service for all men over the age of 18. The Finnish interior ministry says about 60% of gun permits are granted for hunting – a popular pastime in Finland. Cyprus and Yemen also have military service.

How do US gun deaths break down?

There have been more than 110 mass shootings in the US since 1982, according to the investigative magazine Mother Jones.

Up until 2012, a mass shooting was defined as when an attacker had killed four or more victims in an indiscriminate rampage – and since 2013 the figures include attacks with three or more victims. The shootings do not include killings related to other crimes such as armed robbery or gang violence.

The overall number of people killed in mass shootings each year represents only a tiny percentage of the total number.

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Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show there were a total of more than 38,600 deaths from guns in 2016 – of which more than 22,900 were suicides. Suicide by firearm accounts for almost half of all suicides in the US, according to the CDC.

A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found there was a strong relationship between higher levels of gun ownership in a state and higher firearm suicide rates for both men and women.

Attacks in the US become deadlier

The Las Vegas attack in 2017 was the worst in recent US history – and eight of the shootings with the highest number of casualties happened within the past 10 years.

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What types of guns kill Americans?

Military-style assault-style weapons have been blamed for some of the major mass shootings such as the attack in an Orlando nightclub and at the Sandy Hook School in Connecticut.

Dozens of rifles were recovered from the scene of the Las Vegas shooting, police reported.

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A few US states have banned assault-style weapons, which were totally restricted for a decade until 2004.

However, most murders caused by guns involve handguns, according to FBI data.

How much do guns cost to buy?

For those from countries where guns are not widely owned, it can be a surprise to discover that they are relatively cheap to purchase in the US.

Among the arsenal of weapons recovered from the hotel room of Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock were handguns, which can cost from as little $200 (£151) – comparable to a Chromebook laptop.

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Assault-style rifles, also recovered from Paddock’s room, can cost from around $1,500 (£1,132).

In addition to the 23 weapons at the hotel, a further 19 were recovered from Paddock’s home. It is estimated that he may have spent more than $70,000 (£52,800) on firearms and accessories such as tripods, scopes, ammunition, and cartridges.

Who supports gun control?

US public opinion on the banning of handguns has changed dramatically over the last 60 years. Support has shifted over time and now a significant majority opposes a ban on handguns, according to polling by Gallup.

But a majority of Americans say they are dissatisfied with US gun laws and policies, and most of those who are unhappy want stricter legislation.

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Some states have taken steps to ban or strictly regulate ownership of assault weapons. Laws vary by state but California, for example, has banned around 75 types and models of an assault weapon.

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Some controls are widely supported by people across the political divide – such as restricting the sale of guns to people who are mentally ill, or on “watch” lists.

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But Republicans and Democrats are much more divided over other policy proposals, such as whether to allow ordinary citizens increased rights to carry concealed weapons – according to a survey from Pew Research Center.

Who opposes gun control?

The National Rifle Association (NRA) campaigns against all forms of gun control in the US and argues that more guns make the country safer.

It is among the most powerful special interest lobby groups in the US, with a substantial budget to influence members of Congress on gun policy.

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In total, about one in five US gun owners say they are members of the NRA – and it has especially widespread support from Republican-leaning gun owners, according to Pew Research.

In terms of lobbying to influence gun policy, the NRA’s spending jumped from about $3m per year to more than $5m in 2017.

The chart shows only the recorded contributions to lawmakers published by the Senate Office of Public Records.

The NRA spends millions more elsewhere, such as on supporting the election campaigns of political candidates who oppose gun controls.

GOP Waits to See if Trump Will Protect It From the NRA Before Moving on Gun Laws

Sam Brodey Noted that just over a week since mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Senate Republicans are waiting to see if President Trump walks away from the issue again or forces their hand before trying to do anything about potentially expanding background checks for gun purchases.

He’s walked away before. Following the Parkland school massacre last year, the president promised that he was “going to be very strong on background checks,” only to retreat after holding private meetings with National Rifle Association officials at the White House. The NRA, a key ally of Trump’s, has spent big money lobbying against background-checks expansion legislation, and last week reminded him of its staunch opposition.

After the latest shootings, Trump told reporters that there is great “appetite” on the Hill to finally get something done on background checks but his GOP allies in the Senate are holding off, unwilling to burn political capital with the gun lobby and conservative-base voters on the issue if Trump isn’t going to burn some of his.

However, the president’s prior inaction, and the media coverage he incurred for it, may force him to make at least a slightly harder run at background checks this time around, even if only in his messaging and bluster. Two people who’ve spoken to the president in recent days say that he has referenced, during conversations about how he could possibly bend the NRA to his will in this case, his annoyance at media coverage of his post-Parkland about-face that suggested he was all talk and no action on the issue, and easily controlled by the NRA. One of the sources noted that Trump’s aversion to being seen as “controlled” by anyone or any organization makes it much more likely that the president will dwell on the issue for longer than he did last year.

Trump’s influence could well make or break legislation, since Republicans are unlikely to support anything without his blessing but will be just as hesitant to immediately reject a bill he puts his full support behind.

“Many Hill Republicans are waiting to see what Trump will get behind,” said a Senate GOP aide. “He gives them political cover. I don’t think you’re going to see any one bill or one proposal get any momentum until the President publicly endorses it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on Thursday that he and the president are actively discussing possible avenues for gun legislation. “He’s anxious to get an outcome and so am I,” said McConnell on a radio show in Kentucky.

The GOP leader stressed that the president was open to a discussion on gun legislation, from background checks to “red flag” bills: “Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass.”

A spokesman for McConnell declined to elaborate on the Senate leader’s conversations with the president.

Democrats aren’t holding their breath, given that McConnell won’t call the Senate back from its recess for gun bills and that Trump has backtracked before on the issue after outcry from pro-gun factions of his base.

Democratic aides have been mindful of Sean Hannity’s reaction to the background checks push, since Trump’s position has been known to change based on the broadcasts or private counsel of Hannity and other top Fox personalities.

White House aides are similarly waiting on Trump, and talking up how he’s also been reaching out across the aisle to find a potential solution, even if nobody knows what that would look like yet. “The president has been actively talking to Republicans and Democrats on the matter of background checks, and just being able to have meaningful, measurable reforms that don’t confiscate law-abiding citizens’ firearms without due process, but at the same time keep those firearms out of people who have a propensity toward violence,” Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s White House counselor, said on this week’s Fox News Sunday.

One of those Democratic politicians, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), said in a call with reporters on Wednesday he had spoken to the president twice since the shootings in Dayton and El Paso and that he was “committed to getting something done.”

While “everything is on the table,” Manchin said, Trump’s sign-off on any plan will be key to getting it through the Senate. The proposal introduced by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Manchin in the months after the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary made modest adjustments to background check system by extending checks to gun shows and internet sales, but exempted gun transactions between friends and family members. It also provided additional funding to states to put critical information into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in order to prevent people who should not have guns from obtaining them, and created a commission to study the causes of gun violence.

It’s a bill that’s failed twice, once in 2013 and again after the mass shooting in a San Bernardino office park in 2015. Both times it drew very limited support from Republican senators.

Asked what had changed since the last time the bill failed on the Senate floor, Manchin said, “The political will wasn’t there.”

Manchin said he was told by some colleagues who opposed the bill that they really didn’t object to the substance of the bill but they weren’t convinced the “Obama administration wouldn’t go further [and try] taking more of their guns away from them.”

Manchin said he tried to explain that would be unconstitutional, but to no avail.

Some Trump allies say that this president, given his record and rhetoric, might have just enough credibility among Second Amendment enthusiasts to drag them along, if he so chooses.

“If only Nixon could go to China, then maybe only Trump can address the chasm between gun owners and those who want gun control,” Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser, told The Daily Beast. “He’s so strong on the Second Amendment he can truly do something to make a change when it comes to these mass shootings.”

Caputo, who in 2013 and 2014 advised Trump on pro-gun voters and the NRA when the celebrity businessman was weighing a run for New York governor, said that even years ago, “We talked about mass shootings and what that means to the United States, and the importance [to voters] of the Second Amendment, and I know the president has been thinking about this issue for a long time: How you balance gun rights versus gun atrocities.”

Trump’s former adviser added, “If the president pursues broader background checks… perhaps it’s because he knows that is something only he can do. He may lose the support of some of the most pro-gun members of his base, but the vast majority of us understand there are some reasonable measures to be taken.”

I will be very interested to see what happens in D.C. when Congress comes back from their vacation. Will they all together come up with realistic guns laws without the concern for the NRA? That includes the President and yes, both parties in both houses!

Firearm-Related Injury and Death in the United States: A Call to Action From the Nation’s Leading Physician and Public Health Professional Organizations; Politics and Solutions!

rifles364I have been so upset with the recent mass shootings and the lack of action to start the real discussion and solutions I thought that I would dedicate a few posts to this subject. The President and Congress had better get something done because the voters are pretty sick and tired of inaction and the GOP being afraid of the NRA. Get over it and do the right thing and come up solutions and more important, stop making it political!!!

Robert McLean, Patricia Harris, John Cullen, etc. of the AMA noted that shortly after the November publication of the American College of Physicians’ policy position paper on reducing firearm injury and death, the National Rifle Association tweeted:

Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves.

Within hours, thousands of physicians responded, many using the hashtags #ThisIsOurLane and #ThisIsMyLane, and shared the many reasons why firearm injury and death is most certainly in our lane. Across the United States, physicians have daily, firsthand experience with the devastating consequences of firearm-related injury, disability, and death. We witness the impact of these events not only on our patients, but also on their families and communities. As physicians, we have a special responsibility and obligation to our patients to speak out on prevention of firearm-related injuries and deaths, just as we have spoken out on other critical public health issues. As a country, we must all work together to develop practical solutions to prevent injuries and save lives.

In 2015, several of our organizations joined the American Bar Association in a call to action to address firearm injury as a public health threat. This effort was subsequently endorsed by 52 organizations representing clinicians, consumers, families of firearm injury victims, researchers, public health professionals, and other health advocates. Four years later, firearm-related injury remains a problem of epidemic proportions in the United States, demanding immediate and sustained intervention. Since the 2015 call to action, there have been 18 firearm-related mass murders with 4 or more deaths in the United States, claiming a total of 288 lives and injuring 703 more.

With nearly 40 000 firearm-related deaths in 2017, the United States has reached a 20-year high according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We, the leadership of 6 of the nation’s largest physician professional societies, whose memberships include 731 000 U.S. physicians, reiterate our commitment to finding solutions and call for policies to reduce firearm injuries and deaths. The authors represent the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, and American Psychiatric Association. The American Public Health Association, which is committed to improving the health of the population, joins these 6 physician organizations to articulate the principles and recommendations summarized herein. These recommendations stem largely from the individual positions previously approved by our organizations and ongoing collaborative discussion among our leaders.

Background

In 2017, a total of 39 773 people died in the United States as a result of firearm-related injury—23 854 (59.98%) were suicides, 14 542 (36.56%) were homicides, 553 (1.39%) were the result of legal intervention, 486 (1.22%) were subsequent to unintentional discharge of a firearm, and 338 (0.85%) were of undetermined origin. The population-adjusted rates of these deaths are among the highest worldwide and are by far the highest among high-income countries. Firearm-related deaths now exceed motor vehicle–related deaths in the United States. Further, estimates show that the number of nonfatal firearm injuries treated in emergency departments is almost double the number of deaths. Firearm-related injury and death also present substantial economic costs to our nation, with total societal cost estimated to be $229 billion in 2015.

While mass shootings account for a small proportion of the nearly 109 firearm-related deaths that occur daily in the United States, the escalating frequency of mass shootings and their toll on individuals, families, communities, and society make them a hot spot in this public health crisis. Mass shootings create a sense of vulnerability for everyone, that nowhere—no place of worship, no school, no store, no home, no public gathering place, no place of employment—is safe from becoming the venue of a mass shooting. Mass shootings have mental health consequences not only for victims, but for all in affected communities, including emergency responders. Studies also show that mass shootings are associated with increased fear and decreased perceptions of safety in indirectly exposed populations. Preventing the toll of mass firearm violence on the well-being of people in U.S. cities and towns demands the full resources of our health care community and our governments.

Our organizations support a multifaceted public health approach to prevention of firearm injury and death similar to approaches that have successfully reduced the ill effects of tobacco use, motor vehicle accidents, and unintentional poisoning. While we recognize the significant political and philosophical differences about firearm ownership and regulation in the United States, we are committed to reaching out to bridge these differences to improve the health and safety of our patients, their families, and communities, while respecting the U.S. Constitution.

A public health approach will enable the United States to address culture, firearm safety, and reasonable regulation consistent with the U.S. Constitution. Efforts to reduce firearm-related injury and death should focus on identifying individuals at heightened risk for violent acts against themselves or others. All health professionals should be trained to assess and respond to those individuals who may be at heightened risk of harming themselves or others.

Screening, diagnosis, and access to treatment for individuals with mental health and substance use disorders is critical, along with efforts to reduce the stigma of seeking this mental health care. While most individuals with mental health disorders do not pose a risk for harm to themselves or others, improved identification and access to care for persons with mental health disorders may reduce the risk for suicide and violence involving firearms for persons with tendencies toward those behaviors.

In February 2019, 44 major medical and injury prevention organizations and the American Bar Association participated in a Medical Summit on Firearm Injury Prevention. This meeting focused on building consensus on the public health approach to this issue, highlighting the need for research, and developing injury prevention initiatives that the medical community could implement. Here we highlight specific policy recommendations that our 7 organizations believe can reduce firearm-related injury and death in the United States.

Background Checks for Firearm Purchases

Comprehensive criminal background checks for all firearm purchases, including sales by gun dealers, sales at gun shows, private sales, and transfers between individuals with limited exceptions should be required.

Current federal laws require background checks for purchases from retail firearm sellers (Federal Firearms License [FFL] holders); however, purchases from private sellers and transfer of firearms between private individuals do not require background checks. Approximately 40% of firearm transfers take place through means other than a licensed dealer; as a result, an estimated 6.6 million firearms are sold or transferred annually with no background checks. This loophole must be closed. In 2017, of the 25 million individuals who submitted to a background check to purchase or transfer possession of a firearm, 103 985 were prohibited purchasers and were blocked from making a purchase. While it is clear that background checks help to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals at risk of using them to harm themselves or others, the only way to ensure that all prohibited purchasers are prevented from legally acquiring firearms is to make background checks a universal requirement for all firearm purchases or transfers of ownership.

Need for Research on Firearm Injury and Death

Research to understand health-related conditions underpins the modern practice of medicine. In brief, medical research saves lives and improves health. Yet, despite bipartisan agreement that there are no prohibitions on the CDC’s ability to fund such research, research that would inform efforts to reduce firearm-related injury and death has atrophied over the last 2 decades. Consequently, we lack high-quality nationwide data on the incidence and severity of nonfatal firearm injuries. It is critical that the United States adequately fund research to help us understand the causes and effects of intentional and unintentional firearm-related injury and death in order to develop evidence-based interventions and make firearm ownership as safe as possible. Research should be nonpartisan and free of data restrictions to enable robust studies that identify robust solutions. Many of our organizations have affiliated with the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM), a nonprofit organization of health care professionals and researchers working to provide private funding for research related to firearm injury and its prevention. Both private and public funding are key to building a powerful evidence base on this important issue. Research for firearm injury and its prevention should be federally funded at a level commensurate with its health burden without restriction. To move from atrophy to strength requires not just allowing research, but also naming, appropriating, and directing funding for it and for the establishment of comprehensive data collection platforms to document the epidemiology of this growing public health crisis.

Intimate Partner Violence

Currently, federal laws prohibiting domestic abusers from accessing firearms do not apply to dating partners, even though almost half of intimate partner cases involved current dating partners. Federal law restricts firearm purchases by individuals who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or have protective orders against them if they are a current or former spouse; a parent or guardian of the victim; a current or former cohabitant with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian; are similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim; or have a child with the victim. It does not apply to dating partners, stalkers, or individuals who commit violence against another family member. This loophole in the background check system must be closed.

Safe Storage of Firearms

Keeping a firearm locked, keeping it unloaded, storing ammunition locked, and storing it in a separate location have all been associated with a protective effect. A 2018 study found that an estimated 4.6 million U.S. children are living in homes with at least 1 loaded and unlocked firearm. A large number of unintentional firearm fatalities occurred in states where firearm owners were more likely to store their firearms loaded, with the greatest risk in states where loaded firearms were more likely to be stored unlocked. Therefore, our organizations support child access prevention laws that hold accountable firearm owners who negligently store firearms under circumstances where minors could or do gain access to them. These laws are associated with a reduction of suicides and unintentional firearm injuries and fatalities among children.

Mental Health

The great majority of those with a mental illness or substance use disorder are not violent. However, screening, access, and treatment for mental health disorders play a critical role in reducing risk for self-harm and interpersonal violence. This is particularly of concern for adolescents, who are at high risk for suicide as a consequence of their often impulsive behavior. Access to mental health care is critical for all individuals who have a mental health or substance use disorder. This must include early identification, intervention, and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders, including appropriate follow-up. Those who receive adequate treatment from health professionals are less likely to commit acts of violence and individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence. Early identification, intervention, and access to treatment may reduce the risk for suicide and violence involving firearms for persons with tendencies toward those behaviors.

Extreme Risk Protection Orders

Several states have enacted ERPO or ERPO-style laws, and numerous other states are considering them. We support the enactment of these laws as they enable family members and law enforcement agencies to intervene when there are warning signs that an individual is experiencing a temporary crisis that poses an imminent risk to themselves or others while providing due process protections.

Physician Counseling of Patients and “Gag Laws”

Confidential conversations about firearm safety can occur during regular examinations when physicians have the opportunity to educate their patients and answer questions. Such conversations about mitigating health risks are a natural part of the patient–physician relationship. Because of this, our organizations oppose state and federal mandates that interfere with physicians’ right to free speech and the patient–physician relationship, including laws that forbid physicians from discussing a patient’s firearm ownership. Patient education using a public health approach will be required to lower the incidence of firearm injury in the United States. Our organizations are working on programs and strategies that engage firearm owners in devising scientifically sound and culturally competent patient counseling that clinicians can apply broadly.

In the privacy of an examination room, physicians can intervene with patients who are at risk of injuring themselves or others due to firearm access. They can also provide factual information about firearms relevant to their health and the health of their loved ones, answer questions, and advise them on the best course of action to promote health and safety. Providing anticipatory guidance on preventing injuries is something physicians do every day, and it is no different for firearms than for other injury prevention topics. To do so, physicians must be allowed to speak freely to their patients without fear of liability or penalty. They must also be able to document these conversations in the medical record just as they are able and often required to do with other discussions of behaviors that can affect health.

Firearms With Features Designed to Increase Their Rapid and Extended Killing Capacity

The need for reasonable laws and regulations compliant with the Second Amendment regarding high-capacity magazine–fed weapons that facilitate a rapid rate of fire is a point of active debate. Although handguns are the most common type of firearm implicated in firearm-related injury and death, the use of firearms with features designed to increase their rapid and extended killing capacity during mass violence is common. As such, these weapons systems should be the subject of special scrutiny and special regulation. There are various strategies to consider, and our organizations look forward to a greater engagement and partnership with responsible firearm owners to determine how best to achieve this goal.

Conclusion

Physicians are on the front lines of caring for patients affected by intentional or unintentional firearm-related injury. We care for those who experience a lifetime of physical and mental disability related to firearm injury and provide support for families affected by firearm-related injury and death. Physicians are the ones who inform families when their loved ones die as a result of firearm-related injury. Firearm violence directly impacts physicians, their colleagues, and their families. In a recent survey of trauma surgeons, one third of respondents had themselves been injured or had a family member or close friend(s) injured or killed by a firearm. As with other public health crises, firearm-related injury and death are preventable. The medical profession has an obligation to advocate for changes to reduce the burden of firearm-related injuries and death on our patients, their families, our communities, our colleagues, and our society. Our organizations are committed to working with all stakeholders to identify reasonable, evidence-based solutions to stem firearm-related injury and death and will continue to speak out on the need to address the public health threat of firearms.

Understanding gun violence and mass shootings

Columbia University studies showed that public mass shootings, once a rare event, now occur with shocking frequency in the United States. According to the Washington Post, four or more people are killed in this horrific manner every 47 days. The most recent mass shootings, in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, occurred less than a day apart and resulted in the loss of 31 lives.

With each fresh assault, politicians and the public have become more firmly entrenched in their beliefs about the root causes of mass shootings and about possible solutions, from more restrictive gun control laws to better mental health care.

Researchers across Columbia University’s campuses have put these theories to the test in an effort to identify effective strategies for preventing mass shootings and other forms of gun violence.

Mental Illness

Mental illness has long been suspected as a primary cause of gun violence and mass shootings in particular. But only 3% to 5% of violent events are attributable to mental illness, writes Paul Appelbaum, MD, director of the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, in an opinion article in JAMA Psychiatry. “Much of the increased risk [of violence] in people with mental disorders is attributable to other variables rather than to the disorders themselves. Substance abuse, for example, accounts for a large proportion of the incremental risk.”

Further, Appelbaum writes, “compilations of incidents of mass shootings suggest that people with severe mental disorders may be overrepresented among the perpetrators, but given the possibility of bias in the nonsystematic collection of such data, firm conclusions are impossible at this point.”

Video Games

With little funding to study gun violence, “we tend to fall back on conclusions unsupported by evidence,” says Sonali Rajan, EdD, assistant professor of health education at Columbia University Teachers College in an interview published on the school’s website.

In a study published in PLOS ONE, Rajan and colleagues from NYU Langone found no association between video games and other types of screen time and gun ownership among teens. The researchers analyzed data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System—which surveyed tens of thousands of teens about 55 different behaviors over a period of 10 years—to identify factors associated with carrying a firearm. “Among the 5% to 10% of American teens who report regularly carrying a firearm, there is a much stronger association with substance use, engagement in physical fighting, and exposure to sexual violence than with any poor mental health indicator,” explains Rajan.

Gun Laws

States with more permissive gun laws and greater ownership of firearms had higher rates of mass shootings than states with more restrictions on gun ownership, according to a recent study by Columbia researchers in the British Medical Journal. “Our analyses reveal that U.S. gun laws have become more permissive in past decades, and the divide between permissive states and those with more stringent laws seems to be widening in concert with the growing tragedy of mass shootings in the U.S.,” says senior author Charles Branas, Ph.D., chair of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, in an article on the school’s website.

“What happened in Las Vegas saddens me deeply,” Branas says in a previous interview for the Mailman School website. “But this is only the tip of a much larger gun-violence iceberg in the U.S. On the same day, hundreds more people across the U.S. were shot, adding up to somewhere around 100,000 shootings a year.

“We need to think beyond simply guns and people, and start thinking about the environment that is promoting these shootings in the first place,” writes Branas, whose research also has focused on transforming abandoned housing and other signs of urban and rural blight to improve community health and safety.

In other countries, the implementation of laws restricting the purchase of and access to guns in other countries has also been associated with reductions in gun-related deaths, according to a study from researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. “While the research did not conclusively prove that restrictions, or relaxation of laws, reduce gun deaths, the results indicate that gun violence tended to decline after countries passed new restrictions on gun purchasing and ownership,” says co-author Sandro Galea, Ph.D., in an interview for the school’s website.

Aftereffects

Recent suicides among survivors of the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Parkland High School show that the effects of such violent events are long-lasting and entrenched.

“The public may be affected [by mass shootings] even if they were not in immediate proximity, because the media reifies the effects of a mass violent incident,” says Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, in a recent video interview for Medscape.

For survivors of violent events, “reminders such as anniversaries can prolong complicated grief or even reactive grief and trauma,” writes Kathleen Pike, Ph.D., director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University, in an article published on the center’s website. “Community supports matter not only in the immediate aftermath of traumatic events but also for individuals who continue to suffer over time.”

GOP Waits to See if Trump Will Protect It From the NRA Before Moving on Gun Laws

Sam Brodey, Asawin Suebsaeng and Jackie Kucinich reported that just over a week since mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Senate Republicans are waiting to see if President Trump walks away from the issue again or forces their hand before trying to do anything about potentially expanding background checks for gun purchases.

He’s walked away before. Following the Parkland school massacre last year, the president promised that he was “going to be very strong on background checks,” only to retreat after holding private meetings with National Rifle Association officials at the White House. The NRA, a key ally of Trump’s, has spent big money lobbying against background-checks expansion legislation, and last week reminded him of its staunch opposition.

After the latest shootings, Trump told reporters that there is great “appetite” on the Hill to finally get something done on background checks but his GOP allies in the Senate are holding off, unwilling to burn political capital with the gun lobby and conservative-base voters on the issue if Trump isn’t going to burn some of his.

However, the president’s prior inaction, and the media coverage he incurred for it, may force him to make at least a slightly harder run at background checks this time around, even if only in his messaging and bluster. Two people who’ve spoken to the president in recent days say that he has referenced, during conversations about how he could possibly bend the NRA to his will in this case, his annoyance at media coverage of his post-Parkland about-face that suggested he was all talk and no action on the issue, and easily controlled by the NRA. One of the sources noted that Trump’s aversion to being seen as “controlled” by anyone or any organization makes it much more likely that the president will dwell on the issue for longer than he did last year.

Trump’s influence could well make or break legislation, since Republicans are unlikely to support anything without his blessing but will be just as hesitant to immediately reject a bill he puts his full support behind.

“Many Hill Republicans are waiting to see what Trump will get behind,” said a Senate GOP aide. “He gives them political cover. I don’t think you’re going to see any one bill or one proposal get any momentum until the President publicly endorses it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on Thursday that he and the president are actively discussing possible avenues for gun legislation. “He’s anxious to get an outcome and so am I,” said McConnell on a radio show in Kentucky.

The GOP leader stressed that the president was open to a discussion on gun legislation, from background checks to “red flag” bills: “Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass.”

A spokesman for McConnell declined to elaborate on the Senate leader’s conversations with the president.

Democrats aren’t holding their breath, given that McConnell won’t call the Senate back from its recess for gun bills and that Trump has backtracked before on the issue after outcry from pro-gun factions of his base.

Democratic aides have been mindful of Sean Hannity’s reaction to the background checks push, since Trump’s position has been known to change based on the broadcasts or private counsel of Hannity and other top Fox personalities.

White House aides are similarly waiting on Trump, and talking up how he’s also been reaching out across the aisle to find a potential solution, even if nobody knows what that would look like yet. “The president has been actively talking to Republicans and Democrats on the matter of background checks, and just being able to have meaningful, measurable reforms that don’t confiscate law-abiding citizens’ firearms without due process, but at the same time keep those firearms out of people who have a propensity toward violence,” Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s White House counselor, said on this week’s Fox News Sunday.

One of those Democratic politicians, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), said in a call with reporters on Wednesday he had spoken to the president twice since the shootings in Dayton and El Paso and that he was “committed to getting something done.”

While “everything is on the table,” Manchin said, Trump’s sign-off on any plan will be key to getting it through the Senate. The proposal introduced by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Manchin in the months after the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary made modest adjustments to background check system by extending checks to gun shows and internet sales, but exempted gun transactions between friends and family members. It also provided additional funding to states to put critical information into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in order to prevent people who should not have guns from obtaining them, and created a commission to study the causes of gun violence.

It’s a bill that’s failed twice, once in 2013 and again after the mass shooting in a San Bernardino office park in 2015. Both times it drew very limited support from Republican senators.

Asked what had changed since the last time the bill failed on the Senate floor, Manchin said, “The political will wasn’t there.”

Manchin said he was told by some colleagues who opposed the bill that they really didn’t object to the substance of the bill but they weren’t convinced the “Obama administration wouldn’t go further [and try] taking more of their guns away from them.”

Manchin said he tried to explain that would be unconstitutional, but to no avail.

Some Trump allies say that this president, given his record and rhetoric, might have just enough credibility among Second Amendment enthusiasts to drag them along, if he so chooses.

“If only Nixon could go to China, then maybe only Trump can address the chasm between gun owners and those who want gun control,” Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser, told The Daily Beast. “He’s so strong on the Second Amendment he can truly do something to make a change when it comes to these mass shootings.”

Caputo, who in 2013 and 2014 advised Trump on pro-gun voters and the NRA when the celebrity businessman was weighing a run for New York governor, said that even years ago, “We talked about mass shootings and what that means to the United States, and the importance [to voters] of the Second Amendment, and I know the president has been thinking about this issue for a long time: How you balance gun rights versus gun atrocities.”

Trump’s former adviser added, “If the president pursues broader background checks… perhaps it’s because he knows that is something only he can do. He may lose the support of some of the most pro-gun members of his base, but the vast majority of us understand there are some reasonable measures to be taken.”

I do have more data comparing the gun violence in the U.S.A. to other countries, which I will save until next week. But the most important point of this post is that those who can make the difference, i.e. the President and Congress have to ignore the NRA and do the right things. I have included a number of options and most important is that we all can not wait for another media circus as they cover the next mass shooting or jus any shooting, especially where the offending weapon is an assault weapon.