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Surgeons with suicidal thoughts unlikely to seek help

January 18, 2011|By Kelly Brewington, Baltimore Sun
  • A new Archives of Surgery study suggests surgeons with suicidal thoughts are unlikely to seek help.
A new Archives of Surgery study suggests surgeons with suicidal thoughts… (Aaron Ufumeli / EPA )

About 6% of surgeons reported having suicidal thoughts in the last year, but many are reluctant to seek help because they feared it would affect their medical license, according to a new study in the Archives of Surgery.

The study, based on an anonymous survey of nearly 8,000 surgeons, found suicidal thoughts were tied to doctors' worries about making an error, a history of depression and burnout on the job.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that of the 6% who reported having suicidal thoughts in the previous year, 26% sought help. Concerns about the effect on a license is real; 80% of state medical boards ask about prior mental illness and 47% ask about it during application renewal, the study said.

Older surgeons were more likely to contemplate suicide -- those 45 and older had one and a half to three times the rate as the general population. Being married and having kids were associated with lower rates, the study said.

The grim study also mentions that doctors in general have a higher rate of suicide than the general population. But they tend to have the same rate of depression as the population at large. More study is need to figure out what surgeons' risk factors are and how to get them help, the study states.

"This observation suggests that other factors may contribute to the increased risk of suicide among physicians," the authors write in a statement. "Access to lethal medications and knowledge of how to use them has been suggested as one factor; however, the influence of professional characteristics and forms of distress other than depression (e.g., burnout) are largely unexplored.”

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