Working in healthcare can be as rewarding as it is stressful, and doctors are no strangers to the ups and downs. As patients come seeking solutions for their lives, they may never realize that their physician is considering ending theirs. It’s an issue that doesn’t get nearly the amount of attention it deserves but continues to affect thousands of lives each year. That’s why we’ve decided to focus our professional spotlight on preventing physician suicides with the leading voice and advocate for this issue, Dr. Pamela Wible.
Meet Dr. Pamela Wible:
Named one of the 2015 Women Leaders in Medicine as well as the “Physician’s Guardian Angel” by TEDMED, Dr. Wible actively works to bring awareness to preventing physician suicides. Her ambition and genuine care for her work shine through in every book she’s written and each new podcast she creates. No matter if she’s speaking at a keynote or just over the phone, Dr. Wible is continually having these tough conversations with the people who need them most.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Pamela to discuss her work and how we can all address the issue of physician suicide:
Through her reporting on the subject and additional sources, Dr. Wible uncovered that we lose nearly a doctor a day to suicide. When we think about the people who are delivering our children, taking care of our grandparents, and saving lives every day it’s sickening to know that so many are struggling this way.
Physicians actually experience the highest suicide rate of any occupation, with men 7 times more likely to die by suicide than women. Still, doctors of both sexes die by suicide at a greater rate than the average person… So how can we work to change this?
What Changes Can Be Made?
One of the most striking things in our conversation was the notion of “happy” doctors being victims of suicide. Some physicians are so good at masking their distress that their deaths come as a complete shock to their friends, loved ones, and colleagues. It could be that they’re cracking jokes and giving the thumbs up to coworkers minutes before taking their own lives.
During our conversation, Pamela really emphasized a very human, empathetic approach to creating the right conditions for supporting the mental health of doctors. She said mentions that cultivating a family-like atmosphere to alleviate isolation as a result of competition is one way to prevent physicians from taking their own lives. Simply showing support on an interpersonal level is the start of building the type of medical communities that can support genuine mental health.
Preventing Physician Suicides One Day at a Time
Really, preventing physician suicides shouldn’t be such a difficult and secretive operation. Taking colleagues out to lunch, getting some fresh air outside of work, or just hanging out together are simple ways to help at-risk physicians feel supported. Having these tough conversations in places completely unrelated to medicine is usually the best bet. People need to make human connections beyond their day jobs to really identify how others are suffering and what can be done to help.
One of Pamela’s recommendations is to be self-revealing before looking to address someone’s thoughts of suicide. Maybe you’ve had a serious medical error situation in the past or have dealt with these thoughts yourself. In any case, it’s best not to pry but rather relate to how that person is feeling at the time. Really, if you can show support by helping someone to realize they’re not alone, you may be saving their life.
Bringing compassion and empathy into strict and rigorous professions like medicine is not a small task. Still, through having these conversations and actively advocating for physicians’ mental health, Dr. Wible is truly making a difference in the medical community and preventing physician suicides. She’s always available to talk to anyone in need and her website has countless resources for those looking to get a better handle on this topic.