How at risk of suicide is your doctor?

Did you know that doctors have a higher rate of suicide than the general population? With the highest rates of burnout than any other professional group? 85% of students and 41-60% of doctors.

That’s right, your health care professional is 1.1-5.7 times more likely than you to commit suicide (1).

How is it that our health care practitioners are so distressed that they not only want to but actually follow through and kill themselves?

When you consider the sort of people who start medicine are truly and deeply caring, what goes wrong? What happens?

Do people start out medicine wanting to kill themselves and that’s why they choose medicine?

Surely not……!

Or is the health care system so abusive towards those in medicine that the inordinate amounts of stresses and strains create isolation and distress and pressure that leads to self harming and self destructive behaviour and ultimately the final act, of removing ones self from life?

Much has been written on this subject. People are supposedly ‘unclear’ about why it is that our health care professionals are killing themselves, tending to blame the characteristics of the sort of people who choose medicine for not ‘stacking up’ to the pressure of everything that is entailed in medicine.

Women in medicine are particularly at risk of suicide, at between 2.5-5.7 times higher rate than the general population. (1)

Its easy to victim blame, and to say ‘oh they couldn’t cope’ or ‘oh they were too sensitive’, but instead of victim blaming, perhaps we ought to look at the system that these people are placed in.

Is it nurturing?

Is it supportive?

Is it encouraging and does it foster and develop self-care and self-esteem?

One would think that a health care system would value the people in the system, care for them, nurture and nourish them, teach them to take care of their own health, value their health and well-being, as after all they are the ones who are caring for the population.

But instead, in our health care system, we actually find that there is a culture of abuse and pressure for those who are our health care professionals.

There is no culture of support for one another, but rather there is the culture of silence, of putting up, of not letting your guard or your defences down, pretending that you are OK and that you are tough as to show otherwise is to potentially be seen as weak. There is the culture of competition to get jobs, to be seen as being the best doctor, to get the most patients, of knowing the most, and none of this has to do with personal connection.

The health care system holds doctors to blame, to ransom, with the threat of being sued at a moments notice, of being hauled before a medical board that does not connect with you as a person but can rather judge you on one case, and not a lifetimes of work.

The pressures are enormous, the debts are high and in addition to that doctors have all of life’s usual stresses and strains that we all have.

They are not more equipped to deal with life, or health than you are!

There is no magic pill on entering medical school that makes you a superhero! Alas…… red cape either….hence, the ‘white coat’.

Within medicine, relationships are superficial, apart from the rare few. We do not go deep, we do not truly support one another, nor do we feel that we are allowed or able to seek support, help, healing or understanding, for fear of being seen to be weak, of ‘word getting around’ that ‘we can’t handle it’.

Lets face it, the pressures of medicine are huge. Doctors deal with the most intense cases of suffering and difficulties of any profession, and, there is no regular support or counselling to support them to deal with or handle any of this, and instead of peers being a collegiate source of true support and understanding, the relationships are not deep.

If we are to look at people who suicide, they are people who have pain, that they cannot share and they cannot handle. They are isolated, they feel isolated.

Do we offer a true culture of support in medicine?

Does our culture of ‘distance’ and ‘competition’ contribute to the rates of suicide of those within the profession?

If the culture of medicine is not nurturing, caring and supportive of those in the health care profession then surely that is something that needs addressing.

And this is not something that we need to wait for an edict from down high to make this real, this is something that can be done by all of us on a daily basis, by deepening our care, understanding and connection with each other, and ourselves.

We are all the culture of medicine. Change comes from within, from within us all.



(1) Lindeman S, L. E., Hakko H, (1996). “A systematic review on gender-specific suicide mortality in medical doctors.” British Journal of Psychiatry 168(3): 274-279.

6 thoughts on “How at risk of suicide is your doctor?

  1. Great point, pretty scary figures though, I couldn’t imagine getting much help from a doctor if I was suicidal. You’re right, health care needs to be more nurturing, caring and supportive for doctors and their patients alike.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Maxine, great article and you raise many great points. How on earth are we supposed to truly care for others if we don’t have the life skills to even keep ourselves alive, let alone care deeply for ourselves? And why do supposedly intelligent people think that suicide is their best option? What is it about our training that leads us to think that we are better off being a dead doctor, thinking there is something terribly wrong with us, rather than speaking up and saying there is something terribly wrong with the system, and working together to change it, for the benefit of all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Anne. Yes its crazy that things like this are just accepted and not viewed as the crisis that they are. I remember the first few weeks of medical school being simply told how many of us would kill ourselves, that our relationships will be worse, our health will be worse and our suicide rates and drug addictions would be higher……. and these things were just accepted as facts for us to ‘wear’ with no sense that there was anything that could or should be ‘done’ about it. Health care professionals killing themselves reflects an absolute crisis in health care.


  3. Thank-you for raising this topic Dr Maxine. That this culture exists is horrendous, and I can see how we all play a part in it, regardless of whether one is a doctor or not. I’m not a doctor, but have definitely not wanted to see what’s going on here, instead preferring to see our medical professionals as a ‘class above’, somehow untouched by the pressures and reality of human life. This attitude keeps one blinkered to the real world tragedy of the statistics (= real people’s lives) you’ve presented, and the many more who may not suicide, but indeed struggle to cope. If this is a system that does not support those who offer so much support to others, the roots of the problem and culture of abuse (and its acceptance) require addressing – without delay.


  4. Wow those statistics are scary ,I didn’t realise the high rate of suicide in doctors and health care professionals .Thanks Maxine for sharing the statistics and the culture and how people need to be put first in an industry that is a about health .Its great to see a doctor actually speaking out about this stuff as it needs to be spoken about .


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