There is a worrisome trend that has gone unnoticed for a while now. Indeed, doctors are known to save lives around the world. But the irony of this whole thing is that they also take their own lives. One may now begin to wonder why they do that. Perhaps it just goes to show that despite their education and enlightenment, medical doctors are humans, after all. Over the years, there have been inquiries into these ugly happenings. In this piece, you will get to learn about some of their findings and more. Keep reading!
Research studies show that one doctor commits suicide every day with a rate of 28 to 40 per 100,000 number of physician’s suicide. Indeed, this figure is more than double that of the general population. According to Deepika Tanwar, the study investigator at the Harlem Hospital Center, physicians who die by suicide is often found to have untreated or undertreated depression. Surprisingly, the suicide rates are higher in physicians than in the military, which is considered the most stressful and challenging job.
Similarly, a presentation at the American Psychiatric Association 2018 annual meeting shed light on the systematic review of literature conducted on physician suicide. It showed that the suicide rate was 28-40 per 100,000 in physicians, which is more than double the rate in general population. The general population suicide rate was 12.3 per 100,000. Well, the reason behind the high suicide rates in that doctors are unclear, but mood disorders, alcoholism, and substance abuse have been commonly found as per the study.
Another study showed that 12% of male physicians and 19.5% of female physicians had been diagnosed with depression, with medical students and residents occupying the highest numbers. Studies from across the world have shown an increased prevalence of depression, anxiety, and suicidality among medical students and practitioners. Hanging and poisoning are the most commonly used methods. The review suggests that it is because of greater knowledge of and easier access to lethal means. Of all the medical specialties, psychiatry is at the top in the number of occurrences.
Why Does It Happen?
Although the increasing rate is alarming, it is not surprising - given the degree of stress physicians face. The stress starts in med school and continues in the residency attributed to a high level of competition, demand, long hours at work, and lack of sleep. All these challenges may eventually lead them to substance abuse. It is noteworthy that the latter is significant risk factor for suicide. With graduation and entering a new profession or a new residency brings more challenges and more stress with it.
“Stigma is a major obstacle in seeking help and medical treatment,” says Tanwar. With respect to the study based on a Facebook Questionnaire, 50% of female physicians who met the criteria of having a mental disorder did not seek medical care because of the fear of stigma. No doubt, awareness about physician suicide and initiatives to prevent it have been increasing, and that is reassuring. On the other hand, conferences and other meetings addressing the physician wellness and burnout should be held more frequently as they may help in reducing suicide rates. It is an important to openly discuss it to raise the awareness about this issue so that it opens new discussions, which can lead to initiatives that will help in preventing and flattening the suicide curve.