Many Surgeons Have Contemplated Suicide, Study Finds

TUESDAY Jan. 18, 2011 -- A new study finds that as many as one in 16 U.S. surgeons harbored suicidal thoughts in the previous year, but few sought help from a mental-health professional.

Researchers analyzed surveys completed by 7,905 members of the American College of Surgeons in 2008 and found that 501 (6.3 percent) said they had thought about suicide within the past year.

Surgeons more likely to report suicidal thoughts included those who were aged 45 and older; they were 1.5 to three times more likely to have such thoughts than people in the general population. Divorced surgeons also had a higher risk. Being married and having children was associated with a lower risk, the study found.

"The perception of having made a major medical error in the previous three months was associated with a threefold increased risk of suicidal ideation, with 16.2 percent of surgeons who reported a recent major error experiencing suicidal ideation compared with 5.4 percent of surgeons not reporting an error," wrote Dr. Tait D. Shanafelt, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Only 130 (26 percent) of surgeons with suicidal thoughts sought help from a psychiatrist or psychologist, while 301 (60.1 percent) said they were reluctant to seek help because they thought it might affect the status of their medical license.

Of the 461 surgeons who said they had taken antidepressants in the past year, 41 (8.9 percent) wrote their own prescriptions and 34 (7.4 percent) received the prescription from a friend who wasn't formally caring for them as a patient.

Further research is needed to learn more about the factors that contribute to the higher rate of suicidal thoughts among surgeons, along with efforts to help surgeons and eliminate barriers that might make them reluctant to seek help, the Mayo Clinic researchers concluded.

The study appears in the January issue of the Archives of Surgery.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discusses suicide prevention.

Posted: January 2011


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