Physician Suicide

This is Aaron Carroll:

I’ve mentioned before in passing that physicians have the highest suicide rate of any profession. Some more details about this are to be found in a recent study, “Details on suicide among U.S. physicians: data from the National Violent Death Reporting System“…

The results show that physicians who commit suicide are quite different from non-physicians who do the same. Non-physicians are more likely to have experienced a recent crisis or the death of a friend of family member; physicians are not. Physicians who commit suicide, on the other hand, are more likely to have had a recent job problem. Physicians are also more likely to have a known mental illness, but significantly less likely to be on a treatment, like antidepressants. Perhaps most concerning, they are also significantly more likely to have measurable levels of benzodiazepines or barbituates in their blood.

Comments (12)

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  1. Alex says:

    It’s likely that since few other professions require as much dedication from a young age to achieve, they are not as damaging to the psyche of the person. When you devote your life to being a doctor and something gets in the way of that, you’re likely to take it harder.

  2. Robert says:

    When did they overtake dentists?

    I also wonder if there are marked differences in rates between fields of medicine. For instance, I would imagine it would be easier for physician in a fast-paced emergency department to stay further detached from, and thus less affected by the potential loss of, their patients.

    Conversely, I would imagine that physicians in long-term care settings with a high probability to lose patients would take it harder.

  3. Paul says:

    @Robert – I bet they’re throwing Dentists into the “physician” catagory.

  4. Cindy says:

    I wonder if there’s stigma associated with seeking treatment for mental illness if you’re a doctor. I know treatment is confidential, but it seems one may be wary of admitting to a problem that, if found out, could call into question your judgment in the operating room?

    Alex is also right that the career path requires a lot of resolve. Maybe admitting to “weakness” is difficult in that position as well.

    I’m probably reading a lot into this, but I think any measure to address this would need to take that factor heavily into account.

  5. Buster says:

    Physicians are also more likely to have a known mental illness… less likely to be on a treatment, like antidepressants. …they are also significantly more likely to have measurable levels of benzodiazepines or barbiturates in their blood.

    I don’t find it too surprising that doctors who commit suicide are more likely to have a “known” mental illness. Doctors presumably can self-diagnose and recognize feelings of unhappiness as a medical condition more than lay people with the same symptoms. It surprising that doctors are less apt to be on antidepressants but more likely to self-medicate with benzodiazepines or barbiturates.

    Alex may be right that doctors take career setbacks harder. They have high expectations and stress from family members who have high expectations.

    Circumstances that a doctor considers a job problem are probably still far and above the opportunities available to most people. It makes we wonder if the recent job problem is due to self-medicating with benzodiazepines or barbiturates?

  6. Toby says:

    Dentist are doctors too.

  7. Peterson says:

    It has to be difficult to “mess up” when you’re a doctor working on other people. That has to take a toll if you make a big enough mistake.

  8. Roy Bob says:

    Wonderful article …

  9. Jeff Vulcer says:

    Why would physicians be so skeptical about getting treatment for a mental illness? Perhaps this could mean that doctors don’t really trust on those treatments and medications they offer to their patients? Concerning.

  10. Ashley says:

    “We used data from the United States National Violent Death Reporting System…The data set included 31,636 suicide victims of whom 203 were identified as physicians”

    Good job by the authors; take a data set and do some analysis.

  11. Oscar says:

    This is a very interesting study. What stood out to me the most was the fact that physicians are more likely to commit suicide after experiencing a job related problem. I always thought their stress levels would the main reason why they would get really sick, but never really to the point of killing themselves. It really makes me wonder how sane today’s doctors are, and how trustworthy they can be…not only regarding their medical judgement, but their diagnosis…since apparently they don’t believe in their own treatments in the first place.

  12. David says:

    I would suggest that the suicide rate with doctors is directly related to the changing status of a doctor “in the community” as compared to the doctor in the area business office.
    Present medical practice and regulatory requirements placed on the physician have immensely demeand and degraded the profession.
    Years ago the doctor was the urgent important and sometimes the last resort for help and the highest regarded person in community. THEY EVEN MADE HOUSE CALLS AND THAT WAS A REAL “EVENT.”
    Today the doctor has to run a business, file accurate reports that are scanned by the IRS, the Medical Board, the CPA and the unemployed attorneys looking for a case to line their pockets by a jury trial law suit for wrongful injury or death of a patient that may or may not have been preventable. Will his high speed treatment of patients be effecient enough to make a profit and help pay off the expenses of his education and office overhead,is always in question?
    If he hasn’t sometimes thought of a easy exit to this rat race, then he is not really to savy a person.