Physician Suicide

By John Matheson, MD, FACEP

Emergency physicians provide excellent patient care and save lives every day.  Sadly, many of our own suffer silently with depression, but few talk about it or seek help for it.  On average, more than one physician takes his or her own life every day.  Even if you personally do not struggle with depression, somebody you work with almost certainly does.  We encourage you to review this information.  It might just help you save another life today.

Here is a powerful story of an emergency physician who took her own life, as told by one of her colleagues (used with permission).

Facts About Physician Depression and Suicide

  • Each year in the U.S., roughly 300 - 400 physicians die by suicide;
  • In the U.S., suicide deaths are 250 - 400% higher among female physicians when compared to females in other professions;
  • In the general population, males complete suicide four times more often than females. However, female physicians have a rate equal to male physicians;
  • Medical students have rates of depression 15 to 30% higher than the general population. Depression is a major risk factor in physician suicide. Other factors include bipolar disorder and alcohol and substance abuse;
  • Women physicians have a higher rate of major depression than age-matched women with doctorate degrees;
  • Contributing to the higher suicide rate among physicians is their higher completion to attempt ratio, which may result from greater knowledge of lethality of drugs and easy access to means.

(Source: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)  

This article by Jay Kaplan in the January 20, 2016 issue of ACEP NOW is on physician burnout.  It contains links to resources for physicians who experience depression and suicidal ideations. 

Depression and suicide affect young physicians, too, as shown in this article from The Atlantic.

If you are struggling with depression, don’t suffer alone.  Ask for help. And if you recognize that a colleague is struggling, reach out. We need to care for ourselves and each other as well as we do our patients. Help is available.

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