What a hard topic to write about.
Like most physicians, I knew a colleague who committed suicide. Also, like most physicians, I didn’t see any warning signals. I recently came across a review article on the subject of physician suicide on emedicine that made me decide to post some information.
Every year in the United States, we lose the equivalent of at least an entire medical school class to physician suicide. It happens during medical school, residency and once doctors are in practice. It’s nearly always related to depression – a clinical problem we all learn about, but have trouble recognizing in ourselves or our colleagues.
Depression is a disease, not a personal failing. It affects 12-18% of practicing physicians and – it’s treatable. It’s often associated with alcohol or substance abuse, which are also treatable. The good news is that depression, substance abuse and alcoholism are more successfully treated in physicians (and trainees) than the general public – probably because of the personality traits that lead us to become physicians in the first place.
All medical schools have confidential and free support for students and residents. If you are worried about the effect on your career – don’t. Seeking treatment is a sign of strength, not weakness. If you are struggling, please know that there is help and you are not alone.
Here are some important resources (you don’t have to be suicidal to ask any of these sites for information or help)
National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).