Violinist who became doctor takes his life during Covid

Violinist who became doctor takes his life during Covid


norman lebrecht

October 22, 2020

The Daily Mail has the tragic story of Joshua Burke, a violin prodigy who graduated last summer as a medical doctor, only to take his own life during Covid-19 isolation.

Joshua, who was 35,  won a scholarship to the Yehudi Menuhin School and a degree from the Royal College of Music. He toured as a soloist with the London Chamber Orchestra, maintaining friendships with many of his classmates. Five years ago he switched to medicine.

He graduated from Warwick University in July 2019, but suffered from depression. He was found dead this summer, on June 14. There was an obituary last month in the BMJ.

His uncle said: ‘He struggled with ethical problems in medicine, his growing depression and corona isolation. He may not have asked loudly enough for the needed help.’

It’s a terrible tale of our times.

Read on here.


  • Maria says:

    Just awful. I trained as a volunteer Samaritan in the 80s in Manchester. And sadly this young talented musician and medical doctor is just one of so many that we know nothing about. It’s all about dying – or not dying – from or of the virus, but a rare mention of the ever rising suicide rate in Britain and Ireland – just the odd mantra about protecting mental health but the problem is enormous. I can’t speak for anywhere else. People are dying of other causes and suicide is one big cause of death out of total despair.

  • Doc Martin says:

    This is indeed tragic. My sympathy to his family, friends and colleagues.

    The pressure on junior doctors was immense already before the pandemic. The added stress it has caused partly due to workload, shortages of PPE, staffing and impact on mental health due to isolation during lockdown have not been adequately addressed.

  • Doc Martin says:

    This article discusses the pressures on doctors during the pandemic.

  • Doc Martin says:

    Dr Phil Hammond aka MD in Private Eye has some ideas for coping with isolation.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    It’s just beyond dreadful to read about something like this, and I cannot understand it. Just as a general question; how many medicos took their own lives during wartime in the UK and Europe? Do we have any statistics on this, or any knowledge of it at all, as surely this would have been the greatest stresser to the profession. Ever. Time to build psychological testing and counselling into the medical profession generally in order to avoid such tragedy. Maybe marks attained at university aren’t enough to render a person suitable for the profession. Just thinking outside the square on this one. Also, more reasonable expectations from society on what doctor can do would also help.

    • Doc Martin says:

      “Time to build psychological testing and counselling into the medical profession generally in order to avoid such tragedy. Maybe marks attained at university aren’t enough to render a person suitable for the profession.”

      Before someone is given a place at medical school at QUB and TCD this is assessed during the interview.

      The problem in UK is the successive disastrous NHS reforms which have made things worse.
      Listen to Dr Phil Hammond.

      During the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland many of my colleagues packed up and left for Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The stress on them was terrible, attending large bomb incidents daily. In those days we worked on the old contract, I recall many call outs at 2am attending at very remote locations.

    • Doc Martin says:

      Could you please refrain for discussing anything remotely medical Sue. Your comments are not helpful.

      • True North says:

        She has also said on more than one occasion that we should sacrifice the elderly to Covid for the good of society, and that women are not to be trusted in positions of authority. Quite curious, since she is a member of both groups herself.

      • College Educated Black Woman says:

        Don’t tell Sue what to say or do out of your own insecurities!!!!!

        Republicans, alpha men and xenophobes aren’t welcome in this forum boy!

    • Greg Bottini says:

      I agree with Sue 1000% on this, and I simply can’t understand why anyone would downvote her comment.

      • Garech de Brun says:

        As Doc Martin has already explained they carry out a detailed assessment on those intending to take up medicine at med school at Queen’s Belfast and Trinity College, Dublin and most other places. Not being from the medical profession she is unaware of this.

    • HugoPreuss says:

      Perhaps it “helps” to have a real, visible, defeatable enemy as you usually have during a war. Covid is sneaky, invisible, and there is no clear path to victory. I can see how this might possibly be even more depressing than WWII.

    • SVM says:

      I hope Sue Sonata Form does not mean to imply that depression should disqualify someone from working in the medical (or any other) profession. Many people with depression manage to maintain exemplary professionalism and reliability in the workplace, such that their depression is completely invisible. To speak of disqualifying such people from a profession would only exacerbate the stigma and ‘omerta’ around the issue, in that it would probably result in depressed people refusing to seek help, for fear that it would result in them becoming unemployed (which is likely to exacerbate their depression) or refused opportunities for career advancement (howsoever defined).

      If we are to encourage depressed people to seek help, we must safeguard their right to patient confidentiality, and ensure that any evaluations regarding their ‘fitness to practise’ are fair and evidence-based. Ultimately, it is important to ensure that such evaluations distinguish between ‘competence’ and ‘personal welfare’ (whilst recognising that they may be connected to some extent).

  • Dennis says:

    It’s an option many of us are considering in this increasingly insufferable world run by Covid Cultists hell-bent on destroying every modicum of sane and reasonable life.

    • Larry D says:

      Seek help if you are indeed considering this an “option”, and not just ranting about nonexistent “Covid Cultists”, if by that you mean those working to deal with the virus, the true “hell-bent destroyer.”

    • St. Patrick's Aunt says:

      Covid Cultists? Are you a cov-19 denier Dennis. Open your eyes and read BMJ and the Lancet. Human lives matter, we will be still in lockdown same time next year if folk do not wise up.

    • Sharon says:

      Especially for those who have limited access to internet socializing such as web cams or who are already isolated or suffering from depression.
      We just have to keep in mind that this too shall pass.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Truly, if this is even a remote option for you, please seek professional help. You may have intended a political statement – more’s the pity – but others read your comments and take them seriously. If you actually are considering this option or know others who are, there is help, wherever you live. God Bless you.

  • Doc Martin says:

    In Memoriam

    No man is an island,
    Entire of itself,
    Every man is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
    Or of thine own were:
    Any man’s death diminishes me,
    Because I am involved in mankind,
    And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
    It tolls for thee.

    John Donne
    Meditation XVII
    Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624)

  • Doc Martin says:

    This study on junior doctors in Australia in BMJ open by Petrie et al 2020, says it all.

  • Garech de Brun says:

    Jean Richafort
    Requiem In memoriam Josquin Desprez, a 6 voces

    Huelgas Ensemble
    Paul van Nevel

    Introitus. Requiem aeternam


    Graduale. Si ambulem

    Offertorium. Domine Jesu


    Agnus Dei

    Communio. Lux aeterna

  • Papageno says:

    Sad. For other people, classical music has helped them out of depression.

  • Sharon says:

    What a shame! Most medical schools when they interview I’m sure are concerned about psychological stability but clinical depression is a disease with a physiological base that can show up later.
    Ms Burke need not feel guilty. I have absolutely no doubt that her brother understood her desire to protect her very young children and a brief visit would not have cured his depression or suicidal ideation

    We know that suicide is very largely the result of clinical depression which, although it may have an external trigger, is largely a physiologic disease.

    Having said this, the isolation and confinement that many are experiencing is taking a huge toll. Isolation and being confined distorts one’s perspective. I have seen this in my own household.

    As far as the “ethical problems” are concerned–I realize that health care in England is sometimes substandard and can be severely rationed.

    However, at least England accepts the belief that health care is a right. In many areas of the US in our largely profit making health care system people cannot access care at all.

    May his family find peace

    • Nijinsky says:

      I know you are truly concerned and trying to help sharing information you believe is critical, but I question whether you have looked further. In fact without further data, people could be critically mislead. Calmly stating “We know that suicide is very largely the result of clinical depression which, although it may have an external trigger, is largely a physiologic disease,” can be very misleading.

      If one does an internet search for antidepressants and suicide to see how much collusion there can be from antidepressants in causing suicide, you find many many articles about that, despite how much the drug companies try to suppress, and have from the beginning tried to suppress such information, when in their first trials of antidepressants people were getting suicidal and did actually act on it. Or you can read the black label warning on antidepressants stating exactly that, that they can cause suicidal and homicidal behavior, a warning the drug companies tried to suppress, although that knowledge is supported with data they withheld and suppressed. In fact you do not know whether this poor man who took his life was on anti-depressants or whether they contributed to his suicide, something that’s not going to be shared because of patient confidentiality as well as corporate media suppression by the drug companies. I also don’t know whether he was on anti-depressants, but with the amount of collusion between suicide and them, I’m not going to count that out and then promote clinical depression as something physiological because it is assumed that antidepressants would help. They could have contributed and that should be acknowledged.

      You can say that clinical depression is physiological, but the drug companies can’t really legally say that, they don’t have enough substantive proof that that’s the case. This is why in the old Prozac commercials it stated that depression may be from a chemical imbalance. The phrase may be stay clear of whether there’s clear proof or not. They can imply that it is, and make references that taking their pills is like treating a chemical imbalance and compare that to taking insulin, and they can get other people to repeat that ideology, people who aren’t directly connected enough with the drug companies to make the drug companies liable, but the drug companies can’t make such a clear cut statement themselves. Stating that there’s compelling evidence that it could be, or listing the amount of depression that’s prevalent so people think something needs to be done, or stating that antidepressants are common treatment neither proves their ideology. People who were clinically depressed didn’t turn out to consistently have a lack of lack of serotonin, they could have either a lack or an abundance or neither. And beyond that, anti-depressants don’t treat a chemical imbalance of a lack of serotonin, they initially cause more of it to be at large, because of the SSRI effect (serotonin reuptake inhibition) but after awhile they cause the body to stop producing as much and you get serotonin depletion. This is also why going on or off antidepressants can cause the problems they do, and the ones listed on the black box warning. Antidepressants, although one would have to put eight people on them to get one that shows beneficial results, are highly addictive and can cause extreme withdrawal symptoms. Many people, although they have no beneficial effect for them, can’t get off of them without getting severe debilitating withdrawal symptoms. And scientifically antidepressants correlate more with causing chemical imbalance (the alleged cause of mental illness) than they do correlate with treating it, as well as that the current spike in mental illness correlates with the advent of exactly that ideology, that it’s a chemical imbalance. In fact scientific data clearly shows they cause chemical imbalance rather than treating it; while the ideology that depression is a chemical imbalance in itself can cause fear against normal emotional responses to trauma, difficulty or normal emotional cycling thinking that a feeling one isn’t comfortable with has a physiological cause. Simply allowing that feeling to be felt rather than wanting to push it away, along with being in an environment that nurtures such expression, in the end can relieve depression. The discomfort or depression could come more from being told it’s physiological and wanting to push the feeling away than the discomfort or depression comes from the feeling itself. And statistically the marginal efficacy of anti-depressants after an initial period of 2 or 3 years wears off, after that there’s more recycling.

      And if you are going to mention physiological reasons, there are a host of physiological reasons that could be overlooked exactly because depression is seen as something physiological, and then treated by “medications” that in reality cause chemical imbalance by destabilizing the mind and thus subduing emotions rather than treating a chemical imbalance. I myself without looking for it have heard numerous stories of someone having a true medical condition and then having antidepressants promoted to not look further, when going to a different doctor uncovered what the real problem was; and then the stories of people who were forced on anti-depressants because they were understandable agitated by a physical problem, a problem that then wasn’t attended to.

      I have nothing but empathy for this poor man who took his own life; so I share my viewpoint; but I wonder whether I can even do that without being seen as disruptive because I don’t simply promote the mainstream ideology and treatments that in reality correlate with the spike current in mental illness. You can read about that other viewpoint in the books of Robert Whitaker, Joanna Moncrieff or others.

      And sadly, I think that this poor man was confronted with two fields of study, that although they are intensely involved with emotions, don’t show that they consistently have the attention to exactly what an emotion is, or what emotional health is…

  • Papageno says:

    I just watched a youtube stream of Donizetti’s Requiem from Modena, Italy. Wow what a nice, neglected work!

    • Banksy says:

      What is the similarity between Lucia di Lammermoor and Donizetti? She went mad and so did he. He ended up in a loony bin in Bergamo.

  • Doc Martin says:

    Nobody knows how this virus will behave in future, but we do know your chances of being harmed by it are higher if you have one or more chronic diseases and obesity. On 20 September, SAGE published a lengthy analysis of “non-pharmacological interventions”, including the “circuit break”.

    However it completely omitted lifestyle modifications that not only would improve Covid recovery but would also reduce the risk of the far more common non-covid harms ( cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, mental illness etc).

    There is very strong evidence of health improvements from stopping smoking, cutting alcohol, better sleep, better diet, regular relaxation and exercise. No drug comes near to matching these benefits. For a fraction of the cost of containing Covid, we could have improved the health of the poorest: big increases in years of healthy living, fewer premature deaths from just about all causes.

    The government clearly isn’t capable of protecting your health, but you are. If you can, try to get outside, stay active, socialise safely, eat food that’s nice and nutritious, take vitamin D, have five portions of fun a day, relax and sleep well.

    Doc Martin relaxes by playing Turlough O’Carolan on his wire strung Irish harp.

    He has spent the last 6 months removing a 25 year old Cherry tree stump, (which put suckers up everywhere) he had to dig down to Australia! He managed with much pushing and shoving and help from a neighbour with a chain saw to lug the weighty stump out of its hole and drag it along his back passage to the front gravel drive ready for Farmer Brian to take it away on his tractor on Saturday morning before he goes for his winter Flu jab. Those of you at risk should ask their GPs about pneumococcal vaccine if required.
    Keep safe.

    • McBreen says:

      Doc that was an amazing story. Good on you for lugging an old tree stump down your back passage!
      I will ask my GP about pnemococcal vax.

      A hobby is a good idea to relieve stress during cov-19. It used to be wimmin with me, but they became far too expensive and demanding, I just go for a wee run on my tractor.

  • Doc Martin says:

    I find playing the Irish harp helps me to relax in the evenings and reduces the stress of isolation. (Doc Martin sadly lost a very close relative in New Year.)

    Those of you who feel sad and isolated during the pandemic try to find a new interest or hobby. Don’t worry if you think you will make a pig’s ear of it, just have a go at it.

    My friend Simon Chadwick, an Irish harp scholar based in Armagh has done some sterling research on the instrument and plays a copy of an ancient wire strung harp from the National Museum in Dublin.

    Here he plays Turlough O’Carolan’s Brighid Crúis (Bridget Cruise) as Carolan’s favourite.

    The Cruises lived at Cruisetown in county Meath. There are four tunes dedicated to her. Some of Carolan’s deeper feelings for this lady surface in this gentle music. Charles O’Conor of Belnagare, who knew Carolan well, records that when the blind Carolan was on a pilgrimage at Lough Derg, he assisted some of the passengers to board the boat, he chanced to take a lady’s hand and instantly exclaimed,’ Dar lámha mo cháird is Chriost’ that is by the hand of my gossip, this is the hand of Bridget Cruise’.

    His sense of feeling did not deceive him; it was the hand of her he had once adored. O’Conor further states, ‘I had the relation from his own mouth and in terms which gave me a strong impression and of the emotions he left on meeting the object of his early affections’.

    Turlough O’Carolan was born in 1670, near Nobber county Meath, his family moved to Ballyfarnon county Roscommon in 1684 where he his father worked for the MacDermott Roe family of Alderford House.

    Carolan’s music is evocative of a school of harp playing so ancient that we cannot put a date on it. He died on Lady Day 1738 and his wake lasted four days. Of the haunting Farewell to music, Derek Bell states that ‘it is unique amongst all tunes of any age or school, because of its structure and its freedom of melodic direction’.

    Turlough O’Carolan
    Brighid Óg

    Simon Chadwick, Irish harp.

  • Nijinsky says:

    Such a tragedy deserves and calls for complete information to be shared, not just what’s mainstream. That’s only fair to anyone struggling as this poor man did. And that’s my concern, rather than being right, and knowing the answer.

    I find this very concerning, that a statement is made about a physiological cause, and it’s not mentioned that the very agent that in mainstream treatment is said to address that physiological cause has a warning label on it that it can cause the very tragedy said to be caused by the disease needing the agent to fix it.

    Such easy sharing of what to can be dangerously circular.

    When there is talk of physiological cause in clinical depression this is then immediately addressed with pharmaceuticals in mainstream treatment. And then pharmaceuticals which were forced to have a black box warning that they can cause suicidal ideation and homicidal thoughts….

    And it’s quite profoundly biased when references to something being physiologically based are being used as a reference towards pharmaceuticals being needed, leaving out any other treatment regarding physiological cause. Physiological is a reference to something going on that could also be diet oriented, could be environmental, could be lifestyle. To “medically” suppress feelings, feelings that are warning signals pointing out a change could be needed regarding another focus than pharmaceuticals might make everything worse. In fact the advent of mental illness as needing pharmaceuticals has caused statistically more mental illness and more disability.

    As I already stated and can be read in my other comment, and one can research, there is no definite proof that pharmaceuticals for depression or any other psychiatric illness, whether clinical or not, are truly caused by a chemical imbalance, that thus a pharmaceutical would address that imbalance; the real proof is that the pharmaceuticals cause a chemical imbalance and thus destabilize the natural working of the brain. That’s concrete science that’s been proven, rather than such statements as: “there’s compelling evidence” (evidence whether compelling or not doesn’t substantiate proof, and there could be evidence for any set of ideological bends but that doesn’t mean there’s proof); or “the brain is a very complex organ” or “this may be because of a chemical imbalance,” (the phrase “maybe” does not constitute proof, that’s a theoretical possibility). And the chemical imbalance the psychiatric medications cause, causes an interim period, the brain being destabilized, where symptoms are suppressed because natural functions of the brain are hampered; but after that interim there’s more recycling, more disability, more loss of life and life expectancy, and a fear of emotional responses which could have been understood rather than seen as symptoms to be suppressed. In fact the very discomfort could be fear against an emotion that when allowed would be understood. So, in making reference to there being a physiological cause, it’s not at all illogical to see it as being caused by psychiatric pharmaceuticals, something you can also read on the side effect list of any psychiatric drug. But when highly addictive pharmaceuticals are the mainstream approach, there’s more money for the drug companies, that then can further control corporate media through advertisement, and control educational forums through investments and corporate handouts.

    And beyond the discussion about chemical imbalance: even when scientific protocol clearly points out that there is a chemical imbalance, to speak of a physiological cause in the medical community mostly means a pharmaceutical should be promoted rather than the information about change of diet, change of lifestyle, and natural supplements, which wouldn’t qualify as pharmaceuticals to be copyrighted. That’s in regard to an illness with a proven chemical imbalance and apart from trying to successfully titrate someone off of the pharmaceutical agent causing the chemical imbalance. And that’s been going on ever since Rockefeller found out one could make pharmaceuticals out of gasoline:

    That’s my viewpoint, and although there’s true evidence that pharmaceuticals can make everything worse, a person that has gotten a diagnosis of clinical depression, or any other psychiatric illness, can have his civil liberties to try another method taken away from him, in fact would he state that he doesn’t want to have mainstream treatment that can be seen as being non compliant. And there are non mainstream treatments that are statistically more effective than pharmaceuticals, but in psychiatry not only are they not promoted or even suggested, they can be not allowed.

    • Ashu says:

      An admirably humane, thoughtful, and informed statement with which I can only strongly agree, unlike a previous one by Nijinsky in which he seemed to cruelly mock, as conformists and cowards, suffering people who are driven by desperation to the at best crudely inadequate and partial drug treatments of conventional psychiatry.

      • Nijinsky says:

        Ashu, calm down, consider that you misunderstood my response probably more than a month ago, given that you have to bring it up again, as if I am being monitored to see if I have reformed myself. I’m sorry that it upset you, but that’s not really because of my statement, it’s more the situation and its volatility. My response now is no different to then. The content of what someone says doesn’t change because of associations someone else has with it, or as you say, how it “seems.”

        A person is labeled exactly the way you repeated now, although that was months ago or so, when someone shares, or even points out where the scientific truth about psychiatric drugs is shared without censoring anything out that exposes what the drug companies are trying to imply, and allow others to believe. Stuff they can’t even legally say. In fact there are a hoard of people that know these truths, that feel what the drugs do to them, that are stuck in a system that when they express the truth, the scientific truth, when they say how the drugs make them feel, when they relapse back to the thoughts or feelings or scenarios the drugs never gave them a healthy enough brain to process: they stand being seen as non compliant, could be forced on more drugs that further disable their brain or even be given electro-shock therapy. I’m not going to be insensitive to what those people go through, and mute my expression of it because that’s uncomfortable to others who make out this is mocking others as cowards non conformists, which I wasn’t doing at all to begin with in the first place. If I simply state that pastries and coffee aren’t the healthiest snacks, and articulate the science behind that, I’m not mocking as conformists and cowards everyone that goes to a church social and partakes of those substances. Neither is pointing out the toxicity of oil in the environment mocking or calling conformists all of the indigenous people whose land Chevron poisoned in the Amazon, and died from it.

        When it is simply stated how psychiatric drugs disable the brain, and inhibit emotional expression, it isn’t true to say that is insulting other people who might have been forced on the drugs, or who were coerced or not given enough information to make informed consent. All I was doing then, and am doing now is sharing what’s so often left out, the stuff the people making money off of it don’t want others to know. And yes that is a very touchy situation when people have become dependent on something that helps them push uncomfortable feelings to the side; the same as other forms of addiction that disable the brain.

        And I never mocked at all anyone as a conformist or called them a coward. All I said is that when feelings come up, or someone is in a situation that doesn’t go along with statistical based norms or consensual reality deportment, that will cause discomfort, but that doesn’t mean that agents that disable the mind from feeling that discomfort are fixing the situation. And I said that for no other reason than to help someone who might have been lead to be scared of or alarmist against feelings or thoughts that seemed odd to them, that if they realized they were just different than what is considered normal they might gain a different perspective, that there is the ability to understand them further without discriminating against them and that there are people interested in doing that, apart from the “professionals” who label such thoughts or feelings as symptoms of a disease. If there was more empathy and egalitarian acceptance for something that’s labeled as a psychiatric symptom then the uncomfortable warning signals when given attention rather than bring turned off could find answers when allowed, acknowledged and given legroom to express themselves, the brain being allowed to gain understanding so that an intelligent response could come from it rather than disabling the brain from feeling what’s become uncomfortable for the patient, the professional or the society.

        That’s what I said then, which you turned around, and what I’m saying now is no different from then.