We count on physicians identifying patients with depression and at risk of suicide. However, the blunt truth is that physicians themselves have a well above average risk of depression and suicide. That is even more true of female physicians than male doctors.
I saw a commentary by Dr. George Lundberg.(1) That prompted a search for the facts.
And the facts are scary. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention,
- Male doctors have a 1.41 greater risk of depression and suicide than the general adult male population.
- Female doctors have a risk that is 2.27 times greater than the adult female population.
- An estimated 300 to 400 doctors commit suicide each year.(2)
“Physician, heal thyself?” Not so much.
The AFSP cites general issues such as workload, work inefficiency, lack of autonomy and meaning in work, and work-home conflict as the reasons for suicide.
My “gut feel” as a researcher is that there may be a more complex and interesting story underlying the data, and that it will take an interdisciplinary team to sort it out. We’ll see if the resources are ever devoted to the topic to do that.
So while we get on doctors for making mistakes, the fact is they are human and many are under pressures that are supposed to be invisible to patients.
The US healthcare system fails many patients. It also fails many medical professionals. When will we fix it instead of saying everything is perfect?
- Dr. George Lundberg, “A Conspiracy of Silience on Physician Suicide,” Medscape, 23 March 2018. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/893893?nlid=121530_1521&src=WNL_mdplsfeat_180327_mscpedit_wir&uac=153634BV&spon=17&impID=1591918&faf=1