Physician Suicide Rate Tops

It's a disturbing fact that physicians have the highest rate of suicide of any American profession. According to Charles F. Reynolds, MD, author of a paper on depression in the medical profession, undiagnosed and untreated depression is the problem.

“Depression is the inability to construct a future.”—Rollo May, PhD

It's a disturbing fact that physicians have the highest rate of suicide of any American profession. According to Charles F. Reynolds, MD, author of a paper on depression in the medical profession, undiagnosed and untreated depression is the problem.

Although the rate of depression in male doctors is the same as among the general population of men, male doctors kill themselves 1.4 times more often. Female doctors have twice the rate of depression compared to women in general and commit suicide 2.3 times as often. In fact, although the overall suicide rate among men outnumbers female suicide by a 4-to-1 margin, among doctors the suicide rate of males and females is equal.

A new documentary, Struggling in Silence, scheduled to air in May on public-television stations across the nation, takes a look at the rarely discussed problem of physician suicide. The documentary points out that doctors often don’t seek treatment for depression because they fear that, by admitting the need for help, they could lose respect, referrals, income, and even their license to practice medicine. Doctors also have an image of themselves as people who help others, not as people who need help.

Doctors are also at higher risk for suicide because they have virtually unrestricted access to lethal drugs and the knowledge to use them effectively. Doctors, in fact, have a much higher ratio of successful to abortive suicide attempts compared to the general population. Other physicians may have problems with alcohol or drug abuse, another major risk factor for suicide.

Dr. Reynolds, a University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine professor of psychiatry, neurology and neuroscience, advocates attacking the problem in medical school, since medical students are at the age when most depression starts. Many medical schools have put programs in place that offer students help while guaranteeing that their request for help will not show up on their records.

The documentary is the work of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which has also launched a new web site— DoctorsWithDepression.org—to raise awareness of the problem of physician suicide and hopefully save some lives.

300 to 400Number of US physicians who take their own lives every year.(Newsweek, 2008)

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