Suicide Within the Medical Profession

Suicide remains a relatively widespread problem in the United States. There are some professions that have more persistently higher suicides rates than is found among the general public. The medical profession more broadly is particularly laboring under a considerably higher percentage of suicides than is found in the general population.

The Hard Facts: Suicide Statistics in the Medical Profession

The raw data concerning suicide within the medical profession conveys an alarming story. Doctors have the highest suicide rate of any profession in the United States. A doctor takes his or her own life every day in the U.S.A. The suicide rate among doctors in the country is between 28 to 40 per 100,000 people. The range is so broad because oftentimes when a doctor takes his or her own life, those around the physician “cover up” the true cause of death to protect the individual’s memory. The suicide rate among the general population is approximately 12 per 100,000 individuals.

In other words, the baseline suicide rate among doctors is twice that of the population. Understanding that a good many doctor’s suicides are not accurately reported, the suicide rate among physicians may be well over three-times that of the general population.

The suicide rate among dentists is a bit lower than that of doctors. While the suicide rate among doctors is about twice that of the broader population (at least), that of dentists is over one and a half times that of the general public. Dentists are in second place as far as professions with high suicide rates are concerned.

Pharmacists are in tenth place as far as professions with the highest suicide rates in the United States. Pharmacists approximately 1.3 times as likely to commit suicide than is the case with the public at large.

Although outside the human medical professional, veterinarians also have a high suicide rate. They rank at fourth place in professions with the highest suicide rates.

The overall ranking of the 10 professions with the highest suicide rates are:

  • Doctors
  • Dentists
  • Police officers
  • Veterinarians
  • Financial services professionals
  • Real estate agents
  • Electricians
  • Lawyers
  • Farmers
  • Pharmacists

Reasons for High Suicide Rate in Medical Profession

Experts hypothesize why the suicide rate is higher across the medical profession. One conclusion is that doctors and other healthcare providers have a higher rate of depression than is the case of the population more generally. Approximately 12 percent of male doctors are thought to be afflicted with depression at any point in time. About 20 percent of female doctors are believes to be suffering from depression at any time.

Anxiety is also believed to be a more prevalent mental health issue among doctors and other healthcare professionals. Anxiety is believed to be a contributing factor when it comes to suicide among healthcare professionals.

Untreated Mental Health Conditions

A grim reality associated with medical professionals and suicide is that many doctors and other healthcare providers do not seek assistance when laboring under a mental health condition. For example, a considerable percentage of doctors suffering from depression do not seek professional assistance. Thus, these professionals labor under untreated depression (or some other mental health disorder). Left untreated, a mental health condition like depression can lead to a situation at which a medical professional attempts to take his or her life.

Even if a doctor or other type of healthcare provider is generally aware that he or she is afflicted with a mental health issue, they may intentionally make the decision not to seek treatment. They worry that disclosing that they are suffering from a mental health condition like depression will have a negative impact on their careers and their status with their patients and colleagues.

Professional Suicide Prevention Programs

Recognizing the higher suicide rate among medical professions has resulted in professional organizations and even healthcare licensing authorities to step up the availability of suicide prevention programs. For example, professional organizations have begun to make available confidential prevention resources for their members.

In addition, different medical profession licensing authorities themselves are making suicide prevention and other resources available to individuals under their supervision. For example, in some cases when a doctor is laboring under depression, he or she ends up making mistakes that result in some sort of grievance being filed with a licensing authority.

In order to encourage a doctor to receive appropriate assistance, many (if not all) licensing authorities offer programs designed to assist a physician struggling with a mental health issue as a means of improving their health and protecting their licenses.

As is the case with the population more broadly, the shame associated with mental health issues that have the potential to contribute to suicidal ideations can be minimized or eliminated as more people candidly discuss their own life experiences. In addition, as doctors become more candid about their own experiences, they likely will make themselves more accessible to and relatable with those men and women they treat.