Physician suicide remains poorly understood

Source / Disclosures

Disclosures: DeCamp, Levine and Opole report no relevant financial disclosures.

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CHICAGO – Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and it is more common among physicians than among the general population, according to speakers at the ACP Internal Medicine Meeting.

Mark Levine, MD, MACP, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health and professor at Larner College of Medicine, University of Vermont, said that women in medicine are particularly at risk for suicide. Their risk is more than two times higher than that of the general population, whereas the risk among their male colleagues is 1.4 times higher.

Most people who die by suicide have a mental health condition, according to Levine. But there is a “convergence of factors” that lead to suicide, including personality traits and other psychosocial and environmental factors. Burnout may be another factor, although there is “not exactly a direct correlation,” Levine said. Although burnout is dramatically increasing among physicians, a similar increase has not been found in physician suicide rates.

During the talk, Matthew DeCamp, MD, PhD, FACP, an associate professor at the Center for Bioethics and Humanities, University of Colorado, discussed how ethical values ​​among the medical community affect the response to and prevention of physician suicide. Specifically, physicians’ respect for privacy, confidentiality and “duty not to cause additional harm or grief to families and colleagues” may limit information about physician suicide, complicating efforts to develop effective interventions, he said.

In this video, Isaac O. Opole, MD, PhD, FACP, chair of the ACP Ethics, Professionalism and Human Rights Committee who moderated the talk, emphasizes the need to investigate the causes of physician suicide while addressing the issue in a compassionate manner.

“What we need to do as individual physicians but also as leaders in the health care community is to take a look around at ourselves and each other and make sure we understand how to deal with colleagues who may be facing difficulties well before serious manifestations of mental illness, ”said Opole, who is also the Ruth Bohan Teaching Professor of Medicine and associate vice chancellor of student affairs at the University of Kansas Medical Center. “We should be able to take care of our friends and colleagues.”

* Editor’s note: According to the ACP, physicians who feel overwhelmed, stressed or depressed can access peer support through the Physician Support Line and receive affordable, confidential counseling through The Emotional PPE Project spirit The Therapy Aid Coalition .


Opole I, et al. Ethical case challenges: Physician suicide prevention. Presented at: ACP Internal Medicine Meeting; April 28-30, 2022; Chicago.

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