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Physician Suicide Rates: Time to Talk About Physician Mental Health

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Physicians tend to be healthier than the general population – they smoke less, eat better, exercise more, are less likely to be obese and report fewer chronic health conditions.

However, physicians have a much greater risk of dying by suicide.

According to a recent Medscape study, the medical profession “consistently hovers near the top of occupations with the highest risk of death by suicide,” with an estimated 300 to 400 such deaths each year.

Why is suicide so common among physicians? The Medscape authors explore a number of potential factors – including possibly higher rates of depression among doctors, who are also less likely to seek treatment for the condition or recognize it in a colleague. Physicians also work in high-stress, high-consequence environments, often with long hours and significant administrative and regulatory demands. They sometimes face the added stress of malpractice litigation.

When you think about it, it’s really no wonder that doctors are reporting increasing rates of job dissatisfaction and burnout. And it’s incumbent upon everyone in the medical profession – especially clinical leaders – to become better educated about the signs and symptoms of depression, burnout or suicide in physicians so we can help identify and support at-risk colleagues or ask for help when we need it ourselves.

September was Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – an occasion for many provider organizations to focus on these issues and promote a stigma-free conversation around physicians’ mental health. This year saw the first National Physician Suicide Awareness Day, on Sept. 17, for which Mayo Clinic launched a toolkit for medical school students. Provider groups like TeamHealth used podcasts, videos, articles and social media discussions with the #SpeakUpSaveLives18 hashtag to engage clinicians about wellness, burnout, suicide prevention and the resources available to support mental health.

To read the full article, visit Becker’s Hospital Review.