Archive for November, 2012

Doctors’ Suicide Rates Soar, Employers Need to Watch for Warnings

When we need healing, we look to our doctor.

But what about when it’s the physician that needs the healing? Specifically, what happens when the emotional and physical strain of the work begins to wear a person down?

Our Dallas suicide lawyers understand that medical doctors have extremely high rates of suicide, as compared to the general population – and have for decades. The New York Times rep0rts that for male doctors, the rate is 40 percent higher and for female doctors, it’s 130 percent higher.

The U.S. National Violent Death Reporting System indicates that of 31,000 suicide victims, more than 200 were identified as physicians.

Why is this happening?

Well, we know that students entering medical school enter with the same general mental health profiles as those of their peers. However, many quickly slip into depression, burnout and other mental illnesses at higher rates. Even though they generally have better access to health care, they are more likely to resort to poor methods of coping with these problems, such as excessive drinking, and they are less likely to seek proper care or even realize that they need intervention.

These seems paradoxical, but there may be a number of reasons.

First, medical education, training and practice are rather isolated.

This means that when they do find themselves overwhelmed, burned out or depressed, they are unlikely to seek help. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor found that medical students who were depressed or prone to depression often believed that their peers, faculty, counselors and superiors found them to be inadequate. At the same time, the culture of medical school made these same students feel as if they could not express vulnerability or be any less than perfect.

Secondly, physicians work in a demanding field. They often must put in long and irregular hours. They are often called to do so on little sleep, and may suffer several long-term negative physical and mental health ailments as a result. Not to mention, practicing medicine can be extremely stressful and heartbreaking, especially when you can’t “fix” everyone.

Doctors must often walk a fine line between being compassionate toward their patients, and keeping each case at arm’s length in order to maintain their own mental health.

And thirdly, there is a huge problem with physicians who self-treat, rather than seeking outside help. They may be ashamed to report their internal conflict, or they may feel that to do so could jeopardize their license. They may believe that self-treatment is the only option. However, the risk is that, when their mind is clouded with depression or anxiety, the outcome of these treatments are not likely to be successful.

And finally, physicians have greater knowledge when it comes to dying by suicide and the tools readily available to carry it out. This is a dangerous combination.

Given their increased risk of suicide, hospitals, practices and clinics need to make sure that doctors have easy access to mental health services. Additionally, they need to make sure that these individuals can have a decent quality of life.

Employers have a responsibility to recognize the warning signs of suicide in their physicians and to do everything possible to avoid creating circumstances that contribute to the risk.

Moreover there is an extremely important concept frequently missed by mental health clinicians, the concept of VIP suicides. “When mentally ill professionals and other ‘VIPs’ are treated as ‘special’ at the cost of receiving necessary treatment, the risk for an ‘executive’ suicide is likely increased.  Assessing and Managing Suicide Risk ,  Guidelines for Clinically Based Risk Management  R. Simon, M.D. (2004), p. 184.

Dr. Simon, one of the nation’s leading forensic psychiatrists say “The ED physician  wisely resists the impulse to do a medical colleague a “favor” by discharging him to outpatient care.  He does not fall prey to the “VIP syndrome” by allowing a person in a prominent position to influence medical decision making.”   Clinicians can feel personally threatened by the discovery of mental illness in their colleagues. The examining clinician frequently reacts by denying or by minimizing the patient’s suicide risk, with possible lethal consequences.

Employers have a responsibility to recognize the warning signs of suicide in their physicians and to do everything possible to avoid creating circumstances that contribute to the risk.

If you have lost a loved one to suicide, contact the Dallas Law Offices of Skip Simpson, dedicated to holding mental health counselors accountable. Call 214-618-822.