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?
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……..no 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.