When You Need Support
A trained peer — someone who also wears scrubs and knows exactly what you’re going through — can be an invaluable resource. They understand the daily challenges and frustrations of the profession and are able to lend support in tough times. Peer support offers you a shared perspective with a skilled response.
You are not alone; your peers are ready to stand with you.
- PeerRxMed is a free peer-to-peer program for physicians and other health care professionals. PeerRxMed offers support, connection, encouragement, resources and skill building for optimal well-being.
- Physician Support Line helps physicians and medical students navigate personal and professional challenges through a volunteer network of psychiatrists.
- American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress offers online support groups for emergency responders and health care professionals.
- Safe Call Now includes trained peer advocates who can provide assistance, resources and support for any public safety or medical personnel and their families.
Supporting a Peer
You may not need support for yourself right now, but you might have noticed that one of your co-workers seems to be struggling. You’ve observed some concerning signs and you want to be supportive, but you don’t know how to help. Is it really your place to get involved? Will it impact your professional relationship?
Health care professionals depend on each other to work together to help and treat patients. You can also use a teamwork approach to support each other.
It can be difficult to know how to help, but support can begin with a conversation. If you notice that a peer seems to be having a hard time, don’t wait for them to ask for help. Even if it feels uncomfortable, check on them. Asking simple questions, or acknowledging that they seem to be having a tough time can let them know you care – and that they don’t have to struggle alone.
Use these conversation starters to help support a peer who may be struggling:
- Hey, I noticed you haven’t been joking around as much as usual. Are you doing ok?
- I know you’ve been under a lot of stress lately. It seems like you’re overwhelmed. I’ve been there, so if you want to talk about it, I’m here to listen.
- We’ve had some rough shifts lately. Have you been doing alright?
- I’ve noticed you’re drinking a lot more than normal. You ok? Want to meet up for coffee and talk?
There may be times when your peer won’t feel like talking about it. It can take a while to feel comfortable discussing personal struggles. When that happens, it’s best not to force a conversation. Just let them know you care, and you’re there for them if they need someone to listen.
If your peer does want to talk about how they’re doing, help form a genuine connection:
- Give them your full attention.
- Show compassion and avoid judging their behavior or responses.
- It’s easy to relate to things your peers experience and express, and sharing your own struggles can help with the conversation. However, be careful not to allow the conversation to focus on your own problems.
- Offer positive suggestions, but don’t try to “solve” the problem.
- Share resources and encourage them to seek additional support.
- End every conversation with hope, positivity, a plan for coping or strategies for self-care and mutual support:
- “Things may seem tough right now, but finding support can help you feel better. It’s ok to need support sometimes.”
- “Getting more physical activity throughout the week has been helpful for me. Why don’t we plan to take a yoga class or set some exercise goals together?”
- “I’m really glad we talked. Let’s get together more often and help lessen the stress.”
When You’re Worried About a Peer
There may be times when you feel very worried about a peer. They may have said something that alerted you to a more serious level of concern, or perhaps joked in a manner that could be taken the wrong way. If you’re concerned about a peer’s safety, don’t hesitate to respond.
If you feel that a peer may be considering suicide, it’s important to ask the question directly. This can seem like a hard thing to do, but it consists of one simple question: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
When you ask about suicide directly, it gives the person the opportunity to answer honestly and ask for help if they need it. If they say “no,” listen to what they share, and remind them that resources and support are available to help them cope and prevent an escalation of symptoms.
If they answer “yes,” do not leave them alone. Stay with them to make sure they’re safe, and call or text a crisis line for immediate support.
- Avoid judging or shaming them. It’s important to understand the pain they’re experiencing.
- Use active listening and show empathy for their situation. Encourage them to talk by asking questions and demonstrating that you’re interested in their safety and well-being.
- Ask your peer if you can reach out to a spouse, trusted family member or a friend to help support them and continue to make sure they’re safe.
- Share crisis resources and ensure your peer has access to support.
- Before leaving your peer in a safe situation, make a plan to check in with them.
- End your conversation with an emphasis on hope and the goal of feeling better.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers additional information and research, as well as resources and personal stories.