On Female Physicians Committing Suicide

Maurizio Pompili, MD; Iginia Mancinelli, MD; Paolo Girardi, MD; Roberto Tatarelli, MD

Disclosures

Medscape General Medicine. 2004;6(2):60 

We read with great interest the article by Myers and Fine,[1] which dealt with the important issue of suicide in physicians. These authors outlined main risk factors for suicide among physicians and pointed to the need for better prevention of suicide among this population. Indeed, this topic is of paramount importance and should not be underestimated. According to the Encyclopedia of Suicide,[2] medical doctors have one of the highest suicide rates of any professionals, and in United States each year, between 100 and 150 physicians commit suicide, which is more than the size of an entire graduating class from an average-size medical school. Many researchers have reported that rates of suicide may be even higher among women physicians. Female physicians are in a male-dominant occupation, and they are often not fully accepted by colleagues and/or the general public. The suicide rate for female physicians is 4 times the national female rate. Scholars have speculated that this trend may be due to the changing roles of women, in addition to the high stress of their jobs and easy access to drugs. Other explanations include occupational stress because of competing household demands on their time.

Frank and Dingle[3] investigated self-reported depression and suicide attempts among US women physicians. They found that depression was more common among those who were not partnered; were childless; had a household gun; had more stress at home; drank alcohol; had worse health; had a history of obesity, chronic fatigue syndrome, substance abuse, an eating disorder, or another psychiatric disorder; and reported working too much, career dissatisfaction, less control at work, and high job stress. Although the authors concluded that in their sample strata, reporting higher rates of depression tended to show higher (but usually nonsignificant) rates of suicide attempts, other investigators[4] found that female physicians have the same risk of suicide of their male colleagues, but pointed to the observation that female physicians have a higher suicide rate compared with the general population and other female professionals.

According to a consensus statement published in JAMA,[5] the culture of medicine accords low priority to physician mental health despite evidence of untreated mood disorders and increased burden of suicide. This consensus statement recommends transforming professional attitude and changing institutional policy to encourage physicians to seek help. These guidelines concluded that as barriers are removed and physicians confront depression and suicidality in their peers, they are more likely to recognize and treat these conditions in patients, including colleagues and medical students. We praise these authors and emphasize once more the need to develop better measures of prevention for suicide among physicians.

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