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Death of NY Doctor in Virginia Prompts Mental Health Conversation

Headshot of woman
Dr. Lorna Breen (Photo: Chris Leary Photography)

Doctor Lorna Breen of the New York Presbyterian Hospital died by suicide in her family home in Charlottesville on Sunday, after having helped many coronavirus patients.

According to The New York Times, Breen had been sent home after having contracted COVID-19 herself. Her father told the NYT that she seemed detached prior to her passing, as she described the heavy toll of the coronavirus on her patients

Elizabeth Bouldin-Clopton, a program director for the mental health advocacy network VOCAL Virginia, says Breen was not alone in her struggle to cope with the pressures of the pandemic.

“For a healthcare provider or healer who has that compassion or empathy, it’s damaging because they’re not accustomed to dealing with overwhelming numbers of people not surviving,” Bouldin-Clopton said.

Bouldin-Clopton says various mental health resources for healthcare workers and their family members can be found on the VOCAL Virginia website. She also recommends calling the Mental Health America of Virginia “warm line” -- 1-866-400-6428 -- during a time of crisis.

“We want to meet you where you're at and help you through this incredibly difficult and stressful time. We’re here to help you because you're helping others,” Bouldin-Clopton said.

In addition, the Virginia Community Response Network is offering free mental health services to help healthcare providers cope with the emotional trauma of the coronavirus pandemic.

The nonprofit is using telehealth technology to provide healthcare workers -- as well as their family members and significant others -- with up to five free virtual therapy sessions. Rhonie Hale is one of almost 50 licensed therapists offering these services.

“It's very normal when we're facing this type of situation to have all these different thoughts, but when you're in an environment where you know you're extremely busy, and there's not time to really think about it or process it, it can feel very isolating,” Hale said. 

In a statement, the New York Presbyterian Hospital called Breen a hero who “brought the highest ideals of medicine to the challenging front lines of the emergency department.”