Doctor suicide: Wife lifts the veil of secrecy on depression, message goes viral

Physician burnout
Physician suicide has been called the silent epidemic.

When her husband, an Australian doctor, took his own life in his office, Susan Bryant wrote an email to his colleagues and friends saying she didn’t want the cause of his death to be a secret. She urged people to talk more openly about depression and the factors that can lead to suicide.

She never imagined her email, which her son posted online, would go viral, and be viewed and shared thousands of times, according to The Courier Mail. But Bryant’s message clearly hit a nerve at a time when physician suicide has been called the silent epidemic, with an estimated 400 physicians in the U.S. dying by suicide each year. 

The father of four children, Andrew Bryant died in his office after working more than 20 years as a gastroenterologist at his private practice and in hospitals in Brisbane, according to the newspaper report.

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Since her email was posted online, Bryant has received dozens of messages thanking her for raising the issue.

“It’s a huge problem in the medical profession and I’ve been contacted by so many doctors, particularly those who have had a colleague die by suicide. It’s like I’ve scratched the surface," she said."People have contact me and said they were never allowed to talk about a suicide because it’s still such a taboo subject."

While a doctor’s suicide clearly impacts family, friends and co-workers, it can also leave long-time patients bereaved, wrote Michael F. Myers, M.D., in Physicians News Digest. A  doctor’s suicide can be particularly confusing for patients, because many don’t know if it is acceptable to reach out to their doctor if they see signs of a problem, he said. It is always appropriate to offer a smile, thank you and words of encouragement, he clarified.

Just as Andrew Bryant didn’t get help for his sleeping problems or depression, doctors typically suffer in silence and don’t seek help, wrote Pamela L. Wible, M.D., in Medscape (reg. req.).

Wible has run a physician suicide hotline since 2012 and said common risk factors for depression include failing marriage, social isolation, the death of a spouse or financial stress.

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