Suicide in doctors and other health professionals
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.