Out of the shadows: Focus turns to preventing physician suicide

Suicide among medical students and doctors is a problem that has dogged the medical field for years but until recently has gone unacknowledged.

Finally, that has started to change, as the healthcare field looks at why doctors are plagued by problems with suicide and depression and search for ways to prevent it, according to a report in STAT.

A petition signed by more than 62,000 people this year--many of them medical professionals and family members--calls on medical associations to provide counseling, track physician suicides, and require training programs to address a culture that allows bullying and harassment, STAT reported. In response, the Association of American Medical Colleges last month convened a meeting to address the issues of depression, burnout and suicide. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, which oversees residency programs, is also focusing on how to protect residents’ mental health and prevent suicide.

Hospitals have also launched their own efforts that include support groups, peer counseling and stress management.

Most medical students aren’t aware of the fact that physicians are more likely to become depressed, burn out, and die than people in the general population,  Joan M. Anzia, M.D., a psychiatrist at Northwestern Medicine, writes in STAT. In the opinion piece, she provides her perspective as a psychiatrist who works with doctors struggling with their mental health.

Each year in the U.S., 300 to 400 physicians die from suicide, she says. “The terrible truth about physician suicide is that the great majority of these deaths are due to untreated depression, meaning they are preventable,” she says.

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