Physicians and Suicidality: Identifying Risks and How to Help

Our physicians are unwell. Despite often being known as the healers, those who aim to save lives, it is estimated that as many as 400 physicians die by suicide in the U.S. each year. The profession has the highest suicide rate of any job, and one that is reportedly 1.4 to 2.3 times higher than the suicide rate of the general population—a rate that is, itself, up 33% since 1999.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that physicians are less likely to seek help due to several barriers, including time constraints, not wanting to draw attention to self-perceived weakness, and fears regarding their reputation and confidentiality.

Knowing the risks and warning signs associated with suicide can help physicians identify colleagues who may need help, but are not asking for it.

A recent systemic review found that physicians whose career is in transition, such as having recently completed medical school or residency, or those who are approaching retirement, are often the most vulnerable, and that anesthesiologists and psychiatrists are at a higher risk of attempting suicide. Other identified factors of risk include being female, identifying as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, or those who have a prior history of mental illness or substance abuse.

Warning signs to look for include:

If a person talks about:

  • Killing themselves
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Having no reason to live
  • Being a burden to others
  • Feeling trapped
  • Unbearable pain

Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss, or change:

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Aggression
  • Fatigue

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest
  • Irritability
  • Humiliation/Shame
  • Agitation/Anger
  • Relief/Sudden Improvement

Suicide is preventable. Help is possible. We encourage any physician that may be struggling with their mental health to seek help.

If you are in crisis, or want to speak to someone regarding a colleague who may be exhibiting signs of suicidality, we urge you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.