An Urgent Cry for Self-Care
Thursday, September 26, 2019
Posted by: Karen Hardin
Written by: Howard Fradkin, Ph.D., New Chair, Colleague Assistance Program
This past Saturday, I joined the OPA Board of Directors and committee chairs for a planning session. In the midst of meeting the other chairpersons, I was shocked to learn that Gregory Eells, executive director of counseling and psychological services at the University of Pennsylvania, died by suicide early Monday morning. Eells, 52, had been in the position for six months. Previously he was at Cornell University for nearly a decade, and before that at the University of Southern Mississippi. The incident occurred around 6:40 a.m. and was ruled a suicide by the medical examiner's office. Eells jumped from the 17th floor of a building. Police reported no note was left. For any of you who personally knew Gregory Eels, the Colleague Assistance Program offers you our deepest condolences.
Suicide is shocking every time I hear about it. As the new Chair of the OPA Colleague Assistance Program, I was deeply saddened and troubled that an esteemed colleague, who I learned was an expert on suicidality and resiliency, took his own life. I tried to imagine being a family member, being a close colleague, being one of his clients, being a friend of his, and how devastating, heartbreaking, shocking and confusing this news would be to hear. I thought about all the many questions all those who were close to him are harboring, knowing the only person who can really answer them is no longer here. I thought about all the conflicted feelings they might be trying to cope with, such as loss, guilt, regret, anger, frustration, abandonment, and profound sadness.
Dear colleagues, no matter what setting we work in, whether it is clinical or academic, administrative or advocacy, we work in one of the most challenging careers every day hearing about the pain of others, working in functional and sometimes dysfunctional places, and working to help heal our planet’s struggles. Yes, we have many rewards, and oftentimes, those rewards help counter-balance the pain and struggles we witness. However, I hope we can learn from the death of our colleague, Gregory, and remind ourselves all of us are worthy of self-care. All of us are worthy of reaching out to a colleague, to a family member, a friend, or our own therapist, and dare to leave our isolation behind as we share whatever those challenges and pains are we are carrying. I still remember when my friend Ralph committed suicide in my home, and how much help my partner and I needed and received at the time. And I remember how at his Celebration of Life ceremony we hosted, how every single person there said, I would have gladly been there to help him if I’d only known.
Your Colleague Assistance Program is here for you, no matter what feelings and challenges you are struggling with. It is also a top priority of OPA to support the development of professional psychology in the next five years. In order to support our profession, I urge you to find ways, even in the measure of a minute, to leave your isolation behind. I know it can be radically uncomfortable to ask for help, and I know how grateful I feel when someone I trust is there for me, and how deeply touched I am when they open up to me. I invite you to value yourself, and offer someone you trust the opportunity to be there for you.
If you are struggling to find a therapist, your Colleague Assistance Program is here to help you find the help you deserve. Call OPA at 614-224-0034.