On average, one doctor takes their own life every day in the United States. This concerning statistic has emerged from a new study looking into the number of suicides among medical professionals in the US, who are thought to have the highest suicide rate of any profession.
Many of the doctors who have taken their own lives had untreated or undertreated depression or mental illnesses, with the researchers of this latest study suggesting that a major contributing factor to the high rates within the profession is the fear of stigma related to being diagnosed with mental disorders. While the study is yet to be published, the scientists presented their results at The American Psychiatric Association 2018 annual meeting.
The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of studies published over the past 10 years to try to find out if they could not only understand why rates were so high, but also see if any attempted interventions have had any impact.
They found that the number of doctor suicides was between 28 and 40 per 100,000, which is more than double what is seen among the American general public, which is thought to be around 13 per 100,000. That works out at between 300 and 400 medical practitioners taking their own lives every single year. The researchers were surprised that suicide rates among doctors were even higher than among those working in the military, which is considered one of the most stressful jobs.
Why the rates are so high therefore needs understanding. Previous studies have found that the rate of depression among doctors is similar to that of the general population, around 12 percent for men and 19.5 percent for women, with the figure being slightly higher for medical students.
What it may come down to is a reluctance for doctors to seek help. The researchers have found that there is a big stigma attached to mental health issues within the medical community, which is acting as a significant barrier and contributing to the higher rates of suicide.
The researchers also found that even though fewer female medical practitioners attempt suicide than the general public, they have a similar rate of completion. This is potentially linked to the fact that poisoning and hanging are the most common means used by doctors to take their lives, and that having the knowledge and access to lethal substances in their day-to-day job may account for the higher rate of death among this group.
Various interventions have been attempted in a bid to lower the rate, such as health programs offered by hospitals, but to date, none of them seem to have worked. The researchers recommend that interventions should be initiated earlier on in their careers, in a concerted effort to reduce the fear of stigmatization.
If you, or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, then please call the Samaritans on 116 123, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.