How COVID forced this Orlando emergency room doctor to focus more on mental health

Dr. Ademola Adewale says he saw side of medicine, himself he didn’t like during pandemic

ORLANDO, Fla. – Dr. Ademola Adewale is an emergency medicine physician at AdventHealth East Orlando.

He has long loved the idea of practicing medicine. Early on, he knew helping people in pain feel better was his calling.

Since May is Mental Health Awareness month, Real Talk Real Solutions invited Adewale to talk about why it’s important to keep tabs on your mental well-being.

Host Ginger Gadsden also invited her colleague, weekend morning anchor Jerry Askin, to talk about the topic of mental health and wellness and why it can be difficult for Black men to seek help.

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Adewale has been an ER doctor for more than 20 years now and said even before the COVID-19 pandemic, he noticed a change in himself and others.

“For me, personally, after being on the frontline for so many years, there were several changes I call bureaucratic changes that affect the way you do what you do and that was putting undue stress on doctors,” Adewale said.

Those changes were palpable yet intangible.

He said doctors were under pressure because they were on the clock from the first moment they saw a patient until that patient was discharged. Adewale likened it to an assembly line process.

“You feel like you have to move them in and move them out quickly and they are watching and sometimes the compensation is tied to these metrics,” he said.

He said the ramp up to hit certain numbers was already happening before COVID-19 and it only got worse once the pandemic was at its peak.

His breaking point? When one of his patients was having a miscarriage.

Before Dr. Adewale could check on her emotional well-being, he said she had already been moved to another area.

“That is the lowest point of their life. They are scared. They’re afraid,” he said. “(My patient was) whisked away to an observation area with tons of other people, and I just lost it. I said, ‘What kind of medicine are we practicing?’ And that hit me so hard and that’s when I started having disillusionment with medicine.”

Adewale said that feeling of disillusionment only got worse when the pandemic hit. He said for the first time in his career, he felt he could not help his patients.

“Because now we have a disease that I cannot see, I cannot smell and when it hits you, you’re dead.  In the early phase of the game,” Adewale said. “So now, for once, as physicians, we once felt invincible. Now we’re not invincible anymore.”

Adewale said he began to notice a change in himself and even admitted that at the time he hated just about every aspect of his job.

He stayed on the job knowing his departure would make it difficult for others.

“You don’t want to go to work, but the fear of walking away from your colleagues on the frontlines overwhelms you.  You can’t leave them, so we gotta stick together and fight this battle,” the doctor said.

Now his battle was on two fronts—fighting to help keep patients alive and fighting to keep himself from spiraling into depression.

Many others were also dealing with battling depression during COVID. While some may have had signs of depression before, the pandemic really brought it to the surface.

Perhaps no other group felt this more than African American men who were also dealing with the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Floyd died in May 2020 after he was handcuffed and pinned to the ground by now former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin. The images became almost too much to digest and became a major tipping point for many.

Askin spent many days reporting on the protests that followed Floyd’s death. He spent weeks in the community gauging how people were handling what was happening.

Askin said he began to realize he was also feeling the impacts of the stories he was reporting on.

At one point, when Askin was reporting on the importance of mental health in the Black community, he shared during a live report that he was seeking help himself to deal with the stress of what was going on in the community he was a part of.

He said talking to someone about how he was feeling was a big help.

Askin and Adewale said many people in the Black community needed help, but didn’t often seek it out.

Adewale said one big reason is because many people misinterpret mental health as mental illness when in fact the two are very different.

“Mental health deals with your ability to manage normal daily functioning. Can you get up, go to work, and come back home? Can you relate to society? Can you assimilate? That’s what your mental well-being is all about. Are you able to do that without any problem?” Adewale said. “If you start having a problem with that, then you seek help, counseling. That’s where that comes in. You may need counseling. You may need some cognitive behavioral therapy sessions to help you manage the situation. Sometimes we go through stuff that is beyond our capacity to handle. So, I seek help to give me guidance.”

He differentiated the two terms by adding that “if you stay in a persistent state of abnormal well-being, that could lead to mental illness.”

If you would like to see the interview in its entirety, click on the link below. You can also watch it anytime on News 6+. Just download the app for your smart TV, scroll down to Real Talk and start watching.

Check out the Real Talk, Real Solutions podcast in the media player below:

About the Author:

Ginger Gadsden joined the News 6 team in June 2014 as an anchor/reporter. She currently co-anchors the 4 p.m. 5:30 p.m. and the 7 p.m. newscasts.