Suicide rates among healthcare workers are surging, new research has shown.
At least one doctor commits suicide in the US every day with 300 to 400 dying per year, making it the highest rate of any profession, according to a review presented this month at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.
Even more shocking is the rate of doctor suicides – 28 to 40 per 100,000 – which is more than twice that of the general population.
The fear of stigma is strong and, although many physicians admit struggling with mental health issues, including depression, they are unlikely to seek treatment due to fear of humiliation by those within the medical community.
Suicide rates among healthcare workers are surging with at least one doctor committing suicide in the US every day, new research has shown
Dr Deepika Tanwar of the psychiatric program at Harlem Hospital Center in New York, and study researcher told WebMD that ‘it’s very surprising’ that the suicide rate among doctors is than those serving in the military, which is considered a very stressful occupation.
Among male doctors, the suicide rate is 1.41 times higher than the general population and, among female doctors, the rate is 2.27 times greater compared to the general population.
Experts themselves don’t fully understand why the rates are so high, although the new review, touched on some risk factors.
Before their deaths, many of the physicians who committed suicide had been diagnosed with substance abuse problems, mood disorders or depression – but failed to seek treatment due to a strong stigma.
A 2017 study conducted by the Mayo Clinic found that 40 percent of physicians are opposed to seeking help for their mental health issues due to fear that it would endanger their medical license.
And a Facebook survey of 2,100 female doctors found that half reported fitting the criteria of a mental disorder but had not sought treatment.
Two-thirds of those 1,050 women said that the fear of stigma was the main reason they had kept quiet.
Lead researcher Dr Katherine Gold of the University of Michigan Medical School said many of the women believed they could manage without help, including writing their own prescriptions or paying cash during any visits to avoid having an insurance company record.
‘To reduce the number of physicians taking their life, fear of stigma and other risk factors have to be addressed through more research aimed at effective and early intervention,’ researchers in the May 2018 review wrote.
Additionally, doctors face incredible pressure due to stress from competition to get in the best residency programs, long hours, the prospect of malpractice lawsuits and potentiality crippling debt from years of education.
Dr Pamela Wible, a family medicine doctor in Eugene, Oregon, has become a lead advocate on providing more appropriate mental healthcare for doctors.
Wible says that physician suicide is so prevalent that most doctors know a colleague who has committed suicide, and that one million Americans lose their own doctor this way every year.
‘I realized there was an epidemic when I had gone to my third memorial service in a year and a half,’ Wible told Fast Company in 2016.
‘A third doctor in my town had died of suicide in 18 months – a top-notch pediatrician shot himself in the head.
‘I was at his memorial service, and started counting on my fingers how many suspicious deaths among doctors and potential suicides I knew, including men I dated in medical school. I was suicidal in medical school, too…and it was occupational induced.’
Wible says the epidemic is not unknown in the medical community, it’s just unaddressed and, if more people can start talking about the subject, more of the stigma can be removed so that doctors can begin receiving the treatment they need.
If you or anyone you know is in need of confidential support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website here.