Doctors & Depression: Why Physician Suicide Rate is Rising

Intelligent, prestigious, wealthy, knowledgeable – these are all words that come to mind when most people think of physicians. Stressed, overworked, frustrating, anxiety-inducing – there are the words that come to mind for physicians when they think of their careers. The difference between the way we perceive physicians and they way physicians tend to feel is drastic, and it could be leading to a epidemic of depression in the healthcare industry.

Understanding Physician Burnout

First, let’s operationalize the ‘physician burnout’, one of the leading causes of depression in doctors. More than 46 percent of physicians reported feeling burnt out last year, and while some think of this diagnosis as simply being under too much stress, the physician burn out can essentially be fatal. Yes, fatal.

The physician burnout often leads doctors and other medical professionals to feel depressed, in which they find ways to cope, like alcohol, drugs and more. It may be frustrating to consider a physician, someone who’s career revolves around health, turning to these things for relief, but seeking professional help when you are a professional can feel a bit shameful – think of it as a chef asking for advice on how to cook his or her own dinner. While this may sound silly, this problem is all too real.

Substance Abuse & Hidden Habits

Physician dru13793529_mlg and alcohol abuse is not a new problem, but it is becoming more prevalent coinciding with the increase in reported physician burnouts. Actually, MedScape reports that about 15 percent of physicians are currently dealing with some sort of substance abuse. Despite the term ‘abuse’, most physicians that have abused prescription medication and/or alcohol were not seeking some sort of thrill, but rather trying to self-medicate and relieve their stress and depression.

As if substance abuse isn’t a big enough issue, the major concern is that physicians try to hide not only their addiction, but their feelings of depression. Because of their background knowledge in healthcare, physicians’ pride keeps this secret buried, and because they are not seeking the help they so badly need, the situation worsens. Hiding the depression that may coincide with physician burnout is when the issue can turn fatal.

 Depression leading to Increased Suicide Rate


Due to the misconceptions of a doctor’s glamorous lifestyle, most wouldn’t guess that physicians have a higher suicide rate than the general public. In reality, 30 percent of doctors fail depression screening tests and physicians are typically responsible for about 400 out of the average of 42,000 deaths by suicide per year in the United States. Physicians are also a major contributing factor to the rise in the suicide rate in America. Even worse, doctors suffering from depression aren’t only a danger to themselves, but also their patients. Many physicians report being unable to connect and sympathize with patients while suffering from depression, anxiety and/or stress.

What’s being done about physician depression?

As this issue is becoming more and more prevalent, more is being done about doctors’ depression. Physicians are now asked to participate in screening tests from time to time, and are encouraged to speak to co-workers or other professionals if they begin to feel too overwhelmed.

The hectic and stressful life of a physician doesn’t have to lead to depression, substance abuse or suicide. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or that you’re on the brink of burning out, reach out. Depression within the medical industry can be overcome.


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