Redressing Physician Suicide- A Cultural Issue

According to a recent article by the AMA called, "Physician suicide: Searching for answers":

  • 250 physicians take their own lives each year
  • Male doctors are 1.5 times as likely to commit suicide as their non-physician cohort
  • Female doctors are 2 times as likely to commit suicide as their non-physician cohort

(There are more than 870,000 physicians nationwide,and 10,700 in Oregon, according to the American Medical Association.)

The article cites Herbert Hendin, MD, co-author of the 6/18/03 JAMA article "Confronting Depression and Suidicen in Physicians" who tells us the problem is difficult to solve due to the culture among American physicians, and that physicians face major disincentives to seeking help. In fact, the article cites the case of a physician who committed suicide and whose surviving spouse kept the actual cause of her husband's death a secret for a while. Only onecolleague called following the death. The culture of success among physicians and their families seems to run so deep that even their survivors cannot bring themselves to address difficulties even after they have occurred.

The article calls to mind other similar challenges for physicians. For instance, financial suicide (bankruptcy and all the warning signs that precede it) are not a matter that most physicians are eager to discuss, even with their advisors.

Culture is a difficult thing to change. Culture seems to be the pervasive element that binds together a society, like the common understanding.

The story touches ever-so-lightly on what can be done about the high rate of suicide among physicians. To learn more about suicide and how to prevent it, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Preventione.