Suicide among physicians because of job issues is becoming more common globally, according to a recent study.
Published in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, the authors claimed that one in 15 physicians experienced suicidal ideation. It also pointed out that physicians are more likely than nonphysicians to experience work-related stressors prior to suicide. However, the authors added that the exact nature of these stressors was unknown.
As part of understanding the characterise of job stressors that contribute to physician suicide, the researchers at UC San Diego Health reviewed the death investigation narratives from 200 physician suicides. The data was collected from a national database between 2003 and 2018. The study came across six overarching themes, which included an incapacity to work due to deterioration of physical health, substance use that was jeopardizing employment, interaction between mental health and work-related issues, relationship conflicts affecting work, legal problems and increased financial stress.
On the study, corresponding author Kristen Kim, MD, a resident physician in psychiatry at UC San Diego Health noted that poor health can lead to difficulty performing tasks at work, which then leads to job stress and mental health issues.
The study also came up with some solutions, including both short and long term. With respect to short term, the authors stressed the need to improve physicians’ access to primary care services, minimize their scheduling challenges, and address their concern about confidentiality. Kim encouraged health care workers to utilize resources like the UC San Diego Healer Education Assessment and Referral (HEAR) program, which provides access to confidential mental health counselling and was recently endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Health Worker Burnout.
In the long-term, the authors called for broader structural and cultural changes to address workplace stress and poor physician self-care. Meanwhile, Kim stressed; “The unspoken culture of medicine encourages self-sacrifice, deferred needs and delayed rewards. We always want to put our patients first, but healers cannot optimally heal unless they themselves are first whole.” “There is a lot of work to be done,’ said Kim, “But identifying and acknowledging the problem is always the first step towards a solution, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”