Physician Suicide Rate Higher Than in General Population

May 15, 2008

The stigma of mental illness among physicians is preventing the profession from facing the fact that the suicide rate among physicians is higher than that of the general population, according to an article published in the May/June issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

THURSDAY, May 15 (HealthDay News) -- The stigma of mental illness among physicians is preventing the profession from facing the fact that the suicide rate among physicians is higher than that of the general population, according to an article published in the May/June issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

Jennifer L. Middleton, M.D., of the University of Pittsburgh, writes that physicians are as vulnerable to depression as the general population, but they are less likely to seek help, and more likely to commit suicide; an estimated 250 physicians commit suicide every year in the United States. Depressed physicians may be deterred from seeking help by fears of losing the respect associated with their profession.

Middleton also writes of her own grief and guilt following the suicide of a colleague, and the unanswered questions that remained months later, such as "Why didn't you ask for help? Why did you hide your depression?"

"Increasing attention to this devastating problem may encourage dialog among physicians, perhaps decreasing the shame surrounding our mental health issues and creating collaboration to find solutions. All of us as physicians also have a responsibility to contribute to a professional culture that, instead of stigmatizing and isolating, is instead affirming and supportive," the author writes.

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