Doctors Have the Highest Suicide Rate of Any Profession

One doctor commits suicide in the United States every day — the highest suicide rate of any profession — more than twice that of the general population. Doctors who die by suicide often have untreated depression or other mental illnesses, a fact that underscores the need for early diagnosis and treatment. The suicide rate among physicians is even higher than those in the military, which is considered a very stressful occupation. Experts are trying to understand why the rates are so high. Studies have shown that some of the most common diagnoses are mood disorders, alcoholism, and substance abuse. Doctors have been found to be reluctant to seek professional help because of the fear of stigma. Research has also shown that of all medical specialties, psychiatry is near the top in terms of suicide rates. Beth Brodsky, Associate Clinical Professor of Medical Psychology at Columbia University, calls the high rate of doctor suicide “alarming” but says it’s not surprising. The stress starts in medical school and continues in residency with the high demands, competitiveness, long hours, and lack of sleep. When medical students graduate and enter the profession, they face different but equally challenging stressors. Brodsky is among the experts advocating for better ways of addressing these problems, which may start with simple changes. People do not "commit" suicide but "die by suicide," she says. She notes that suicide is an "illness and not a crime.” Openly discussing suicide as an illness helps to "bring it out of the darkness" and shed the stigma shadowing this problem, she says.