The tragic story of med school widows is a narrative that often remains obscured in society's background. To commemorate September’s Suicide Prevention Month and Physician Suicide Awareness Day on Sept. 17, we spoke to Janae Sharp, founder of the Sharp Index, who learned the devastating effects of losing a loved one to suicide firsthand.
The Grieving Process and a Motive for Change
Janae recounts the different treatment she and her three young children received compared to families who lost their loved ones in other ways. The profound stigma and shame associated with suicide magnify the pain of loss. Despite being pillars of health, doctors are twice as likely to die by suicide. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, on average, more than one physician takes his or her own life every day or 300-400 each year. These are heart-wrenching statistics that Janae experienced firsthand with the loss of her husband John Madsen in 2015, while he was a student at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. She admits, "I can't replace John, but I can do what I can."
“It was hard watching someone struggle with mental health and taking care of kids and really having too much on their plate. And also learning that the culture of medicine kind of tells you that things will go bad. And it's expected that things will be hard. It's expected that you'll lose people in your life.”
In her journey after John’s death, Janae found solace in writing about healthcare and sought therapy. She felt anger – at the system that let John down, at her family, and even at herself. Yet, she mentions, "when I am angry, I do a lot of great work.” This anger became the catalyst for change and energized her to shift the narrative on physician mental health and wellbeing.
From Digital Connections to Real-World Change
Using her background in social media, Janae saw the potential in data-driven strategies. Her first foray into raising awareness was during a conference presentation on the subject. Realizing there were minimal stories about physician suicide, she decided to change the narrative.
Janae shares, “people on the internet were the ones who supported me." Digital communities became her refuge. These connections, made with many who had also lost someone to suicide, were invaluable. They offered advice, company, and a unique form of compassion that Janae found both comforting and motivating.
Unlike other groups focusing on physician suicide, the Sharp Index is unique. It has a robust presence of volunteers, many of whom are experts in healthcare technology. Their aim is to highlight the undue stress technology can place on healthcare workers, particularly the taxing hours spent on Electronic Health Records (EHR).
Celebrating Successes and Building Resources
Janae is proud of the strides the Sharp Index has made since founding the organization in 2018. From changing attitudes around mental health in the U.S. to introducing grants for healthcare workers during the pandemic, the successes are tangible. There's also an EHR toolkit and connections with powerful EHR providers.
The Sharp Index offers a variety of resources – online presence, toolkits, support guides, and digital meetups. Their primary goal is to bridge the gap between those impacted by the healthcare system's shortcomings and those wanting to make a difference.
The Call to Action
Janae emphasizes that everyone is affected by the health of our healthcare system. "We are not great with mental health, and we are not great with loss," she said.
For those willing to help, the Sharp Index offers a plethora of opportunities. From signing up as volunteers to organizing community runs, or simply sharing their experiences online, every effort counts.
The Future and Web 3.0
Janae's collaboration with Givepact is a testament to her forward-thinking approach. She sees a huge opportunity in cryptocurrency donations and is hopeful about harnessing the power of the Web 3 community. For them, Janae suggests that their strength lies in offering immediate resources and understanding genuine human needs.
As for her favorite crypto coin? It's the Sheeba coin. It might not be thriving, but for Janae, it's an emblem of faith and perseverance, much like her journey with the Sharp Index.
To learn more or contribute to the Sharp Index's initiatives, click here, and consider donating crypto to the organization. Join Janae and countless others in their mission to bring light to the shadowed stories of physician suicide.