What is it like to witness an intensivist struggle?
And what can we learn from the shocking death of an intensivist?
This special Mastering Intensive Care episode is on a difficult and important topic. Rather than focusing on bringing our best selves to work, the focus of this episode is the ultimate tragedy of our profession, doctor suicide.
I warn you that this is a sad and confronting story about the troubling situation intensivist Richard Harding went through, including dealing with a mental health condition as well as a medical complaint made against him, before ultimately taking his own life 8 months ago in New Zealand.
Richard’s death is still under investigation by the New Zealand Coroner and the findings as to the final cause and circumstances of his death have not been released. In this podcast, his wife, Kate Harding, describes her observations and perspectives on what happened to Richard.
I didn’t know Richard. I only came to know of his death when Kate wrote a blog piece in the British Medical Journal. It was sad and it was moving. When she published another article in the Guardian two months later, I figured that whilst Kate was grieving as she dealt with the aftermath of a serious life crisis, she wanted to tell her story to help others.
Kate grew up in Brussels, went to medical school in Glasgow, and has worked all over the UK as well as in Australia and in New Zealand. She is primarily a hospice doctor, but also works part-time as a GP. Kate also enjoys writing and her engrossing articles are linked below.
Richard and Kate emigrated to New Zealand with their teenage children in 2016 but after his untimely death in October 2017, Kate and her children have returned to the UK. She has a strong interest in mental health, as well as in doctors’ well-being, with a particular focus on the General Medical Council complaints procedure. Kate tells us that Richard’s depression and subsequent death were in large part triggered by the stress of going through his first ever GMC complaint, despite being completely exonerated from any wrongdoing.
Kate and her children are adjusting to their new life back in Britain, while missing Richard desperately, as well as their community in Whangarei, NZ. Kate has started running, tries to attend her Buddhist group every week, drinks far too much coffee, and lavishes unhealthy amounts of love on her long-suffering cavalier, Mo. Mainly, though, she worries about her children. Work helps to ground her, as does the mountain of financial, legal and general paperwork that now rules her life.
The main purpose of this interview is to help Kate in advancing the conversation about suicide, about mental health, about dealing with medical complaints and to discuss the simple fact that our jobs and lives as intensive care professionals are arduous. When our colleagues die in these circumstances we must reflect on what this means for us as a specialty. We need to reduce the stresses and pressures we all feel in our work and our lives and we need to ask each other if we are OK.
Please help me to spread the message by simply emailing your colleagues, or posting on social media. You can leave a question or comment on the Facebook “mastering intensive care” page, on the Life In The Fast Lane episode page, on Twitter using #masteringintensivecare and @andrewdavies66, or by sending me an email at andrewATmasteringintensivecare.com.
On this topic there are no easy solutions. Doctors have a significantly higher suicide rate than the general population. Whilst all situations are unique and individual, there seems so much we can learn to prevent our colleagues and our friends from going through what Kate is. It is a privilege to bring you my conversation with Dr Kate Harding.
Show notes (people, organisations, resources or links mentioned in the episode):
- Lifeline: www.lifeline.org.au
- Beyond Blue: www.beyondblue.org.au
- Harding K. “I have lost my husband” could not be more accurate—it feels like a carelessness. BMJ 2018.
- Harding K. ‘I went on a walk and returned to find my husband dead’ The Guardian. 2018.
- General Medical Council: https://www.gmc-uk.org/
- Kate Harding on Twitter: @KateJH1970
Other articles written by Dr Kate Harding:
- Harding K. Doctors’ wellbeing: learning from Richard’s death. MJA Insight 2018
- Harding K. Adjusting to widowhood – and GP life back in the UK. Pulse. 2018
- Harding K. Finding solace in A&E. Pulse. 2018
- Harding K. An exercise in patience. Pulse. 2018
- Walker M. Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams