There is a new article on surgeons and the risk of suicide in the January issue of Archives of Surgery (full reference below).
The Kansas City Star’s new article on the study includes this from a colleague who was a plastic surgeon here in Little Rock when I went into practice. He left his surgical practice a few years ago, retrained and is now in hospice care at the local VA. (photo credit)
Dr. Robert Lehmberg, 63, said it took prodding from close friends to finally get him to seek treatment for depression and suicidal thoughts several years ago. Though he feared losing his license and being stigmatized, neither happened, and he said medication and psychotherapy have greatly helped.
The article notes suicidal ideation (SI) among individuals 45 years and older is 1.5 to 3.0 times more common among surgeons than the general population (P < .02).
This study was commissioned by the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Committee on Physician Competency and Health. It used an anonymous cross-sectional survey in June 2008. The survey included questions regarding suicidal ideation (SI) and use of mental health resources, a validated depression screening tool, and standardized assessments of burnout and quality of life.
There was a response rate of only 31.7% which resulted in 7905 participating surgeons. Of these, 501 (6.3%) reported SI during the previous 12 months.
Only 26% (130/501) of the surgeons with recent SI had sought psychiatric or psychologic help. More than half [301 (60.1%)] reported the same reluctant to seek help due to concern that it could affect their medical license as Dr. Lehmberg mentions above.
Burnout with all 3 domains of burnout (emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and low personal accomplishment), depression, and report of a recent medical error were independently associated with SI even after controlling for personal and professional characteristics.
The authors conclude:
Although 1 of 16 surgeons reported SI in the previous year, few sought psychiatric or psychologic help. Recent SI among surgeons was strongly related to symptoms of depression and a surgeon's degree of burnout. Studies are needed to determine how to reduce SI among surgeons and how to eliminate barriers to their use of mental health resources.
Doctors with Depression (September 24, 2008)
Stress and Burnout Among Surgeons – an Article Review (April 22, 2009)
Doctors With Depression (September 24, 2009)
Special Report: Suicidal Ideation Among American Surgeons; Tait D. Shanafelt; Charles M. Balch; Lotte Dyrbye; Gerald Bechamps; Tom Russell; Daniel Satele; Teresa Rummans; Karen Swartz; Paul J. Novotny; Jeff Sloan; Michael R. Oreskovich; Arch Surg. 2011;146(1):54-62.