Suicide rates among doctors are consistently recorded as being the highest amongst all other professions worldwide. However, the intensely high rate of suicide amongst physicians, though shocking and tragic, is not a new epidemic.
In fact, for the past 150 years – nearly two centuries – physicians (and medical students) have been reported of having higher inclinations to die by suicide than almost any other profession, including other high-stress occupations. According to an article from the Washington Post, shocking suicide rates among physicians have been reported since 1858, yet, the issue remains unaddressed and the root causes remain, to some effect, a mystery.
Not only is this enormously high rate an epidemic (not to mention a tragedy for those doctors, their friends, their family, and for the profession itself), but it files under a public health crisis, too.
More than 1 million Americans are losing their doctors annually to suicide – a number that continues to grow with each passing year.
A Look at the Numbers
According to a study presented at American Psychiatry Association meeting in May 2018, doctors have the highest suicide rate of any profession. Doctors suicide rates are astronomical, reaching about 28 to 40 per 100,000, a higher rate than those in the military (another incredibly stressful profession). This rate is more than twice the rate of the general population, which is reported as 12.3 per 100,000.
In other words, in the United States, one doctor loses their life to suicide every single day. However, these rates are not specific to the United States. Higher rates of suicide amongst doctors is an epidemic that plagues the entire world. In fact, studies from Norway, Australia, China, Finland, Singapore, and more have reported an increased prevalence of anxiety, depression, and suicide amongst doctors and medical students.
Why Suicide Plagues the Physician Profession
The biggest factor for physician suicides stems from the same factor for all other professions – undertreated or untreated depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
The difference? Often, doctors are faced with an insane amount of pressure by the nature of their profession – often leaving them wracked with guilt, mentally and physically exhausted, and wounded by their profession.
Whether it results from the immense workload of medical school, losing a patient, being subjected with consistent life and death decisions, or malpractice suits, the daily life of a doctor is filled to the brim with life-altering stress. Further, WebMD reports that about 12 percent of male doctors and about 19.5 percent of female doctors are affected by depression. This is even more prevalent in med students – about 15 percent to 30 percent of medical students have reported symptoms of depression.
Still, other factors surrounding the intense suicide rate of physicians remains a mystery. Despite a less stigmatized take on depression in our modern society and modern medical practices, doctors still remain the profession with the highest suicide rate.