Suicide risk may be higher for MDs

While many inside the profession don't like to discuss the issue, it's getting publicity nonetheless: Doctors are killing themselves at comparatively high rates. While exact statistics are hard to come by, researchers think that the suicide rate among physicians is higher than that of the general population, averaging 300 to 400 U.S. doctors per year. A 28-state study from the 80s found that female doctors were more than twice as likely as women in the general population to suicide, while male doctors were 70 percent more likely to kill themselves.

Why are these rates so high? For one thing, many don't get the help they need--fearing that any admission of mental illness could ruin their careers, given the profession's stoic culture. What's more, physicians have easy access to lethal drugs, as well as detailed knowledge of how to overdose effectively. On top of everything else, doctors often have extremely high workloads and make high-stakes decisions under intense pressure.

Hoping to stem this ugly trend, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has launched an educational campaign that hopes to make troubled doctors feel more comfortable seeking help. Also, fellow professionals are making changes to help de-stigmatize mental illness. For example, in Arkansas, one psychiatrist managed to get the state's medical license application process changed; previously, a doctor who admitted mental illness had to get a pass from a psychiatrist before they could practice, but now they only need to disclose treatment.

To learn more about this issue:
- read this USA Today piece

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