With the suicide rate for male physicians about 40 percent higher than that of the general population and the rate for female physicians 130 percent higher, suicidality in the medical profession isn’t something healthcare organizations can afford to look away from.
In my recent article available here, I attempt to tackle the question of how an organization, and the people in it, can respond when a colleague contemplates suicide, attempts it or completes it.
I also call for a comprehensive culture of care for struggling physicians, pointing out that the culture needs to include a robust well-being program. This can mean supporting practitioners with peer coaching, counseling and other related services.
Help for the Struggling Physician
Often, I’ll refer to Gil Porat, MD’s article “The Struggling Physician,” in the July 2014 issue of Today’s Hospitalist, which also underlines the need for well-being programs to counter the kinds of mental health struggles that can lead to burnout, despair and suicide.
“I have learned to look at doctors on the edge as emotionally injured,” Dr. Porat writes, “in the same way that trauma to a ligament causes emotional pain (as much as physical) to somebody who can no longer train the way they want to. In both cases, we need to acknowledge that healing is possible only by working together.”
“Proactively getting into a physician health program, via self-referral or at the urging of a colleague, protects the doctor and the public, and early intervention increases the chances of success. Doctors who complete a well-run program actually say they would return to that program in the future if needed.”
Physicians who have experienced a good well-being program express they are more likely than the general population, to return for mental health support—which is crucial, since surveys show medical professionals are less likely to seek help for depression, a key factor in suicidality.
Suicide haunts medicine, but a group effort to prevent and deal with it, anchored by an excellent well-being program, can turn the tide. Read my article A Healthcare Organization's Actions and Postvention Steps for Physician's Death by Suicide to learn more.