The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects data about mortality in the U.S., including deaths by suicide. In 2011, 39,518 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. Physicians have a higher percent of suicide:
“There is a growing body of evidence that shows physicians are at significantly higher risk of suicide than non-physicians. A widely cited meta-analysis by Dr Eva Schernhammer and Dr Graham Colditz published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2004 found that male physicians have a 41% higher risk of suicide compared to the general population and female physicians have a shocking 130% higher risk, though some other studies have found the gender difference to be smaller or even nonexistent.” (Schernhammer, M.D., Dr.P.H.)
Recently, Rebecca Bernert, PhD at Stanford School of Medical announced that poor sleep can increase suicide risk. This study was published Aug. 13 in JAMA Psychiatry. This is understandable considering the demands placed on the physicians.
After doing some research, I discovered a program started in 2008 by Earl Bakken at the North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea. Most hospitals use emergency codes to alert the hospital staff of urgent situations. For example, if there were a fire, we would hear “Code Red” over the intercom; or “Code Blue” for a person who lost consciousness or requires urgent restoration. Earl Bakken envisioned a hospital with integrative medicine consisting of 20% drugs and 80% spirituality. Hence, Code Lavender was born. It is a code that hospital staff can call if they felt overloaded by stress or if something traumatic happened that they felt overwhelmed/burnout.
Cleveland Clinic is one other hospital that has been using Code Lavender among the nurses and doctors. (Cameron, 2009) They “focus on being supportive and also on using touch therapies… spiritual support and counseling, snacks…” I approached the Director of Chaplaincy at my hospital offering to help start Code Lavender at my work. Though Cleveland Clinic offers more touch and spiritual support, I feel that we should offer art therapy, guided imagery and music therapy. These three art forms will help the staff take their minds off their worries for a short period. Many studies show that creating art helps lower blood pressure and heart rate. It calms the mind down allowing people to see their situation in a different perspective. It allows people to put their worries out to the universe. I personally have collected surveys from patients after an art session and most have said that “the art sessions allowed them to remember what it’s like to have fun again”, “I slept better than I have for a long while”, “for a moment there, I forgot I was sick”.
Not only do I believe that Code Lavender will help alleviate stress and anxiety for the nurses, doctors, and caregivers. Code Lavender will help employees feel supported by the hospital and by their colleagues. The Cleveland Clinic survey of Code Lavender patients, in 2008, found that “93% of patients surveyed said that the Code Lavender services they received were helpful, and 90% said that they would recommend these services to others.”
There is no guarantee that we will rid suicide completely, but with Code Lavender, there is hope for the nurses, doctors and caregivers. They give of themselves constantly and are running on empty. By providing a system where they can say, ‘Hey! I need help. I need my cup to be refilled’, we can help prevent another suicide and help bring back the humanity in healthcare.
Cameron, M. (2009) Cleveland Clinic: Notable Nursing: Healing Services ‘Code Lavender’ http://my.clevelandclinic.org/Documents/nursing/notable_spring09.pdf
Code Lavender™ ExperiaHealth, http://www.duffycxo.com/codelavender/