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  • By Cara Murez HealthDay Reporter
  • Posted July 5, 2022

What Drives Doctors to Take Their Own Lives

Doctor burnout and suicide are a growing concern, a new study finds.

"We often overlook the physical health of our health care workers, but poor health can lead to difficulty performing tasks at work, which then leads to job stress and mental health issues," said corresponding author Dr. Kristen Kim, a resident in psychiatry at UC San Diego Health.

About 1 in 15 doctors experience suicidal thoughts, according to the study. It reviewed death investigation information from 200 physician suicides nationwide between 2003 and 2018.

Researchers identified six themes in the reports: inability to work due to deteriorating health; substance use that put employment at risk; relationship conflicts affecting work; the interplay of mental health and work-related issues; legal problems; and financial stress.

In the short term, the study said, doctors need better access to primary care services, as well as help with scheduling challenges and concerns about confidentiality.

In the long term, broader changes are needed to address workplace stress and poor physician self-care, the study said.

"The unspoken culture of medicine encourages self-sacrifice, deferred needs and delayed rewards," Kim said. "We always want to put our patients first, but healers cannot optimally heal unless they themselves are first whole."

She encouraged health care workers to take advantage of resources available to them, such as the UC San Diego Healer Education Assessment and Referral (HEAR) program. Recently endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory on Health Worker Burnout, it provides access to confidential mental health counseling.

The authors added that health care systems and medical schools should provide more personal finance education and legal support. Cultivating a sense of safety and community among physicians is also important, they said.

"There is a lot of work to be done," Kim said, "but identifying and acknowledging the problem is always the first step towards a solution, and that's exactly what we're doing."

The findings were published June 29 in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. A similar study in 2020 also examined the issue.

More information

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can provide help.

SOURCE: University of California, San Diego, news release, June 29, 2022

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