Do No Harm: Taking a Closer Look at Suicidality in Physicians

In the United States, at least one physician commits suicide every day. It’s the highest suicide rate of any profession, taking the lives of up to 40 physicians per every 100,000—a rate that is twice the national average. And until now, no one has really talked about it.

However, a new documentary seeks to take a closer look at the deadly trend in medical care. Do No Harm, directed by Robyn Symon and physician suicide prevention advocate Pamela Wible, MD, follows two families who are suffering through the fatal aftermath of a high-pressure, high-stress, high-consequence medical culture—a culture that has become the norm for today’s practicing physicians. Facing mountains of debt, working unrealistic hours, the pressure of what could culminate from one minor mistake—many doctors buckle under the burden of these and other stressors, ultimately turning to suicide as a way out. This documentary hopes to send medical students and practicing physicians a clear and powerful message: you are not alone, ask for help if you are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts.

This film is a positive first step in opening a dialogue about suicidality in physicians—as Symon says, “dialogue is the first step to change.” Several other positive steps have also been taken: in New York, the Physician Wellness and Resilience task force has been created, and is working on getting a collective negotiation bill passed. The task force also hopes to see more physician-led health systems in place moving forward, as well as free and confidential psychological care for medical students and practicing physicians.

We recently wrote a blog about the high rate of suicide in C-level executives and business leaders—a topic that has been in the headlines frequently since the untimely deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain earlier this year. But even though physicians face a different set of stressors than business leaders, the result is the same: feelings of deep sadness and overwhelming anxiety in a population of people who either fear the stigma of a mental health disorder, don’t believe that they could possibly be suffering from depression or anxiety, or who simply don’t know who they can turn to for help.

Acknowledging suicidality in physicians and providing physicians with a safe and healthy path through which to address their mental health needs is an important direction for the medical industry to travel in. Do Not Harm will be a powerful step in the right direction. In the meantime, if you or someone you care about it struggling with suicidal thoughts, please speak with a healthcare professional and ask for help now—it could save your life.

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