High Suicide Rate Among Doctors | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

High Suicide Rate Among Doctors

Not only is the suicide rate high, but according to a Newsweek article, it is the highest compared to any other profession.

Every year, between 300 and 400 physicians take their own lives—roughly one a day. And, in sharp contrast to the general population, where male suicides outnumber female suicides four to one, the suicide rate among male and female doctors is the same.

"Undiagnosed and untreated depression is the culprit here," says Dr. Charles Reynolds, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who appears in the film and was co-author of a 2003 paper (one of the few) on physician suicide, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. While the rate of depression over a lifetime is basically the same for male physicians and the general population of men—about 12 percent—the doctors' suicide rate is 1.4 times higher. Female docs have double the rate of depression and 2.3 times the rate of suicide compared with the general population of women. (Some studies report equal rates of depression for women doctors; others report even higher suicide rates for physicians.)

So why aren't depressed docs seeking treatment for a common illness that millions of Americans have learned to manage with therapy and readily available medications? Because they worry—not without reason—that if they admit to a mental-health problem they could lose respect, referrals, income and even their licenses. Because, despite the steady increase in the number of women in the field, medicine is still very much a macho profession; physicians are supposed to be the strong ones who care for the sick, not the sick ones who need to be cared for. "I did not want it to go on my medical record that I had been treated for depression," says Dr. Robert Lehmberg, 60, whose moving account of his struggle with the condition—and the stigma it carries—is featured in the film. "Once I got treated, I realized how foolish all that was."

Fortunately, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has been working to raise awareness about this epidemic through a Web site called doctorswithdepression.org and a documentary called Struggling in Silence: Physician Depression and Suicide, which will begin airing on public TV stations in May.

Previous Comments

ID
118792
Comment

I wonder if it has something to do with the hypocritical oath they take wherein they're supposed to help people who are sick but if you don't have any money they will let you die a slow or hurried death? Could it likewise have something to do with being against socialized or full health coverage for all people. Greed is sinful and will cause slef-inflicted harm to the possessor. Perhaps, on the other hand, some doctors are unable to detach or disconnect themselves from their stressful work schedule which is a necessity to good health. Children, grandchildren, gardening, reading, debating, blogging, sporting, marriage, dating, rest, relaxation, reading (other than about work) - are all good distractions and disconnections from work or work-related situations. Personally, I prefer doctors who mention God every now and again and go to church. It shows they realize their limitations, imperfections and lack of invincibility. It also shows they realize the real source of all knowledge and know-how and recognize it doesn't start and end with them. Doctors are mere beings who have figured out a few of the mysteries of the mind and body - not the God of the universe or any mini-god. I wish them good health and happiness though, and many are my friends.

Author
Walt
Date
2008-04-21T12:55:52-06:00
ID
118793
Comment

Walt, I would put more blame on the insurance companies as far as the current healthcare system goes. I don't believe that all doctors are greedy or indifferent. I believe many of them do care and want to help others, but I think that restrictions such as what HMOs won't pay for or tons of red tape gets in the way of their goals, and that can bring about a change of how they view their occupation.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2008-04-21T13:27:58-06:00
ID
118796
Comment

I've heard this argued many times LW, but doesn't this goes back directly to money in almost every case. Surely, doctors need money as medicine is a high dollar operation to run. If inurance companies didn't have procedures/protocols to stop or limit doctors from running needless experimentations to obtain more money every doctor would own an island somewhere in the world with a fence tall and big enough to impress Lou Dobbs, the great Mexican hater.

Author
Walt
Date
2008-04-21T13:37:29-06:00
ID
118798
Comment

I'm not saying that all doctors are blameless; I'm saying that I do not believe that the represent the majority. I believe that most of them are used by God to save lives. The skills they have are helpful to many. I think of organ transplants, the separation of conjoined twins and other things the average guy on the street can't do. Also, they put up with a lot to receive the education they get. Undergrad, med school, residency, etc. I can't imagine being on duty 72 hours straight in the ER, having to guard yourself regularly against HIV and hepatitis, and stretching yourself beyond what is imaginable during an epidemic or after a natural disaster. No, the medical field isn't perfect, but give credit where credit is due. I don't know about anyone else, but if I was having a heart attack or I accidentally chopped off a finger, I'd want a doctor to come to my aid.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2008-04-21T14:09:29-06:00
ID
118800
Comment

LW, I agree they have to work like superhumans. But they still don't need those islands with the big fences for the purpose of hiding and guarding them from us and reality while simultaneously tempting them to commit grand theft to pay for them. I agree this only involves some of them and not all. Loneliness breathes self-destruction, and drug and alcohol abuse, among other things. However, if the pursuit and greed of money is a direct result of what's happening to doctors and actually impacting the suicide rate among them, we had better watch out for a big spike in the suicide rates of ministers. Those fellows are calling themselves more often than mothers are calling lazy boys from the bed to go to school.

Author
Walt
Date
2008-04-21T14:32:44-06:00
ID
118801
Comment

Walt -- I've personally known several physicians (and people who are in the process of becoming physicians) and "to make a big pile of money" has never been number one on any of their hit parades. Most often, their motivation begins as a desire to help and heal. And let's get real, here. It's not doctors who set the rates for medical care: it's insurance companies. Doctors must go from education to practice with the some of the highest education-related debt rates imaginable. And it makes perfect sense to me to pay them well, according to their education, depth of knowledge and skill--much more so than paying millions to some yahoo who can throw a ball--but that's just my opinion. I also believe the pay scale is pretty outrageous for both professions in the U.S. (it doesn't hold true for doctors in other countries), as is our pathetic rate of pay for teachers and other professions that can actually make a difference in the quality of one's life. It doesn't take much to see how "managed" health care could be a depressing environment for any doctor whose aim is to help people. To make the goals set by these companies, doctors barely get to talk to their patients, much less do some actual healing. It's more like: Make a snap-diagnosis and prescribe a pill. And then there are the patients who expect medicine--and their doctors--to be infallible all the time. As we perfectionists come to know, perfection is not attainable by humans. But try telling that to a patient who's been misdiagnosed or harmed by medical treatment. More often than not, their response is to find the first personal-injury lawyer willing to take the case. And it's not always the best, or most rational, course of action to take. This is all to say that the issue isn't quite as black & white as you've painted it, Walt. And what the heck does your comment about ministers mean, anyway?

Author
Ronni_Mott
Date
2008-04-21T16:56:49-06:00
ID
118814
Comment

Well, Ronni, I know many doctors personally too and have discussed these issues numerous times with many of them without any agreement or consensus. They say it's because I'm wrong and I say it's because they're blinded by self-interest or the profession. Again, some doctors are my best friends. I have also watched many more doctors from a distance to view their conduct, demeanor and execution of their jobs. Therefore I stick by what I said although much of it is in jest. I have also worked for a major insurance company for many years and as a result have many friends in that industry too. I know fairly well what they do. I'm not trying to sell you my opinion and I'm not buying your opinion in its entirety although I certainly know there is much truth to what you say. I respect doctors but don't view them as next to God, or powerless or impotent to insurance companies. They apparently view themselves as such but I don't. Why don't they choose the interest of the patients over that of the insurance or pharmaceutical companies? Why not fight the evil forces form outside then? Don't they have a powerful lobbying leg. Look at tort reform! I also stick by what I said about ministers even if I erroneously used the wrong adjective to make my point. I'm without perfection like all physicians are, you know. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't pretend to be any pseudo doctor or expert on depression, and I make no effort to discount the disease of depression. There are depressed people who do what I do too. We have had some suicides recently. However, for me, I try to work from 8-5 and not take work home. I'll stay up days during trials if need be, but once the trial is over, I forget about it almost instantly and return to doing things I like to do that are pleasant, sustaining and freeing. I discovered around my late twenties that my health is essential to helping me or anyone else. Without it I'm worthless. Some says I'm worthless with it as well. He, he... Thanks for your commentary Ronni. Long time since we talked.

Author
Walt
Date
2008-04-22T08:35:41-06:00
ID
118815
Comment

Also if I have offended any doctors, I'm sorry. There is already one doctor who plans to let me die if she's ever called upon to save me. And I might have a doctor friend or two thinking the same thing though unknown to me. I love y'all.

Author
Walt
Date
2008-04-22T08:41:40-06:00
ID
118817
Comment

Finally, I just ate a bad meal and am feeling stomach complications. I think and see things much more clearly when in isolating pain. While in this condition I can easily admit there are many doctors in the profession to help people and not just out for the money. I might need to see one of those shortly.

Author
Walt
Date
2008-04-22T10:36:45-06:00

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