Physician suicide part 1

Posted: June 13, 2014 in depression, medicine
Tags: , ,

While reading over some articles I found one about physician suicide – which is of course an issue close to my heart. From there I started looking at other articles talking about physician suicide. This is gives me some relief as I am not alone but at the same time scares me as I fit some of the descriptions of a successful physician suicide “to the T”. In a career dedicated to helping others, it seems we fail at helping ourselves as evidenced by “the overall physician suicide rate cited by most studies has been between 28 and 40 per 100,000, compared with the overall rate in the general population of 12.3 per 100,000”  which is 2-3 times the rate of the normal population! In an era of physician shortage, about 400 physicians successfully complete suide each year which “would take the equivalent of 1 to 2 average-sized graduating classes of medical school to replace.”

I wondered if any specialities would be a highest risk – you would think oncology – with so much death and sorrow, or maybe neurosurgery – which are overworked and in constant high stress situations. In my situation, one of my worse clinical rotations was the medical ICU as I started feeling down, thinking very negative and was having trouble with dealing with other people being happy/content. I soon realized that we were averaging a death a day and it was taking a toll on everyone.  The answer suprised me – “there has been multiple studies since the 1960s trying to breakdown this in specialities, and they tend to point to psychiatrists as having the highest suicide risk – although studies done later have found no difference in specialities.” Although maybe dealing with constant mental illness, depression, and anxiety starts to effect oneself.

The risk factors for physician suicide are a lot like the general population – which upset me because I fit so many. For example, rates are found to be “higher among physicians who are divorced, widowed, or never married,” and having been recently divorced…  Another statement describes the personality qualities of a physician who completes suicide “as driven, competitive, compulsive, individualistic, ambitious, and often a graduate of a high-prestige school,” – I don’t think I am too competetive – but of course I am individualist(do autistic people have a choice in this regard?) and driven(which has gotten me to where I am). Another study showed personality factors “including self-destructive tendency, depression, and guilty self-concept” – which basically describe my mindset for the past 20 years – using these attributes psychiatrists were able to review a past medical class and pinpointed the 8 successful suicides without prior knowledge of the class! A 1980s study linked suicides to “having slightly more difficult or emotionally draining patients than other physicians, both throughout their careers and in the final 2 years of their lives” which is not too suprirising.

One of the other reasons possible for such a high success rate in physicians may be our knowledge of drugs and lethality, this has resulted in a “higher completion to attempt ratio”, especially in females. I can appreciate this as I think of my previous attempts when I was a teenager – how unlikely my change of suceeding would be with the methods I had used..


Miller, et al. The Painful Truth: Physicians Are Not Invincible, “Southern Medical Journal”, 2000

Facts About Physician Depression and Suicide, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Andrew, L, et al. Physician Suicide,, 2012

  1. Nana says:

    My heart aches for you as I read your blog! You have overcome great obstacles in your life with major achievements. I do not know you, but I am proud of you that you do not give up. I am not sure where you find joy but pray that you count your blessings twice! My grandson has autism and I have to strongly believe that he will know joy, peace and happiness in his life. Stay strong for yourself and those in your life that love you!!

  2. Please see my blog as it deals directly with these issues. We need to start talking about this more. It is time to take the blinkers off.

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