Boldly Breaking Stigma: A Doctor’s Path To Healing

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A lot of us feel alone in the ways we suffer,” says Dr. Lakshman Swamy. “But it doesn’t have to be that way.” 

A pulmonary and critical care physician, Dr. Swamy did not think of himself as someone who needed mental health support: “My attitude was: I’m an ICU doc, I can handle it.” Swamy was working at a major Boston hospital that serves the city’s most vulnerable residents when COVID hit. He found himself on the front lines of the pandemic. “It was a bad time,” he recounts, “the worst in my life. I saw a lot of people die and far more suffer.”  

As the pandemic deepened, the ICU he knew and loved became unrecognizable. With visitors prohibited from the unit and Dr. Swamy and his colleagues afraid of exposing one another to the virus, the powerful sense of community that had sustained him disappeared, creating a void soon filled with fear and loneliness. 

Dr. Swamy’s connection to The Brookline Center began when he was invited to participate in an online panel about COVID’s mental health impacts for members of the Center’s Edna Stein Leadership Giving Society. While sharing his experiences in the ICU, he remembers thinking, “Wow, this is bad. I’m telling everyone to get the support they need, but I’ve not done anything for myself.” 

Although initially apprehensive, Lakshman reached out to the Center for care. “They were incredible,” he says, “and there for me during the hardest days.” Therapy helped him cope with the trauma of his experience, as well as with the feelings of shame, guilt, and powerlessness that made it hard to walk back into the ICU. “If it wasn’t for The Brookline Center,” he says, “I don’t know how much longer I would have been able to practice clinical medicine.” 

In April 2023, Lakshman ran the Boston Marathon as part of Team Brookline, the town’s official marathon charity program managed by The Brookline Center. He signed up for the challenge because “the need for mental health care is skyrocketing and the funding and staffing aren’t rising quickly enough to match it. This was a direct and powerful way to help fix that.”  

With a finishing time of 4:54 and a fundraising total of $22,000, Lakshman credits his work at the Center with getting him to the finish line: “I thought therapy would be about fixing the broken parts of me. But it has also given me so much insight and helped me on the path to becoming a better doctor, a better husband, a better father, and a better runner.”