Suicide in doctors and other health professionals
National Physician Suicide Awareness Day
It is important to remember that the vast majority of doctors do not kill themselves. Most doctors thrive in their working environment. But each death is a tragedy which sends repercussions through the system.
Sadly, at PHS we have had patients who have taken their own lives. Throughout time and across the world, doctors have always had higher rates of suicide compared with the general population and with other professional groups. Female doctors in particular have higher rates, 2.5–4.0 times increased rate of suicide compared to an age matched group. The reasons for suicide among doctors, as in the general population, are often related to untreated or under-treated depression, bipolar disorder, or substance misuse.
We know that there are specific risk factors including GMC involvement, complaints and a lack of support structure around the doctor.
However accessing support through a service like ours or one of the many organisations designed to help with suicidal thoughts could make all the difference in the world.
In Memoriam: Remembering those doctors and other health practitioners who have died as a result of suicide
Freya, would have been 18 years old this year and as with many 18-year olds in the throes of A levels, and probably worrying about whether she would be getting the grades for her chosen University. She would be destined to enter the health system – primed no doubt by her mother, who was a talented psychiatrist or myself, her father, a radiologist. But all of this is inference. On 9th October 2000 Daksha stabbed Freya, then 3-month-old, stabbed herself, covered both of them in accelerant and set it alight. Freya died of smoke inhalation; Daksha survived for a further three weeks in a burns unit, but died without regaining consciousness. The incident, took place during a psychotic episode that was a consequence of her bipolar affective disorder, triggered by her post-natal condition and aggravated by psychosocial stresses. I still live in the same house, redecorated several times to clear it from the smell of fire. A large photo has pride of place in the front room. The colour photo above of ‘my girls’, was taken on Sunday 8th October the day before the tragic incident. Daksha’s pain and torment hidden from view, the smile acting as a mask to her suffering. By now she had already planned their deaths and had already bought the accelerant. And masking pain is typically of doctors. They learn early on in their training to hold the line, to appear stoical, to turn up for work come what may and to never admit to their vulnerabilities. Daksha had a long history of mental illness, and the inquiry highlighted the stigma that doctor-patients experience when becoming mentally unwell. At personal level they fear that if they disclose mental illness that they will be subjected to sanctions by their employer or regulator, or worse still lose their job. They fear loss of confidentiality and that their personal details will be disclosed outside the safe space of the consulting room. Daksha was for ever frightened at being ‘found out’ and of being exposed as someone needing help. Practitioner Health Service as a response to the tragic deaths of my wife and daughter and other such tragedies will enable their silent screams to be finally heard. The continued development and success of PHS will be their everlasting legacy of remembrance.
Over the last ten years PH has seen a small number of our patients die by suicide or sudden accidental death. Thankfully this is a relatively rare event but we recognise the huge impact this has on the families, friends, colleagues and patients of the clinician. It also has a deep impact on us as a team.
We know that around the world many doctors do feel distressed, anxious and experience a range of negative emotions related to their life and work. Some will contemplate suicide, but hopefully will find the support they need.
Sadly others do not and do take their own lives.
We want to ensure that these lives are not forgotten and that we remember all that these clinicians were in life and the impact they had on those around them. With this in mind we are creating a “Memory List” of those who have died so that we can continue to remember them. We do not yet know how we will use this list and in what format we can share it but are open to suggestions.
The “Memory List” contains the names and photos of doctors and other health practitioners lost to suicide or sudden accidental death. If you would like to include a friend or relative on this list do let us know.
We are joining with the Council of Emergency Medicine Residency Directors (CORD) and with AAEM, ACEP, ACOEP, EMRA, RSA, RSO and SAEM to annually dedicate the 3rd Monday in September as National Physician Suicide Awareness (NPSA) Day.