Physician Suicide

A colleague passed away this week:

Albany, N.Y. : Timesunion.com : Obituaries

He was the victim of a terrible disease called depression, and I didn't know it – nor did most of his colleagues. He was a wonderful physician – and was adored by his patients, medical students, residents and colleagues.   A careful, thoughful physician, I always found him easy to speak with – and (unlike some specialists) he valued the opinions and contributions of primary care physicians.

Some would say that health care providers make terrible patients.

They're missing the point. It's very hard for physicians to reach out to other physicians in a trusting way. It's common for physicians to hesitate seeking treatment for psychiatric illness due to a misperception that such treatment will become public knowledge or will impact their status on hospital staffs. Last week, I was asked by a patient not to enter the Zoloft prescription I was writing into her chart. I told her that I couldn't do what she was asking, and I addressed her concerns that the entry in her medication list would make her "look crazy" to anyone looking at the record.

Yet it's been hard for me to address similar concerns from physicians in such a convincing way.  They must respond to annual questionnaires from the hospitals where they admit patients, and they must list all medcations and medical problems they are being treated for. While such information is strictly confidential, many physicians know that their peers who sit on the credentialing committee will see this information.  One physician patient told me that – while he would like to be treated for a given problem – he would prefer I NOT treat him for his – as he wold have to report this treatment.

Something is wrong when the people who are supposed to care for everyone else cannot get care for themselves because of such fears. Could our colleage have been helped? I wish I knew. Here's a little news blurb on the topic of physician suicide.  It's the leading cause of "early death" in our profession.

3 thoughts on “Physician Suicide”

  1. Your wrote:>

    This is true for a lot of professions, it seems. My ex-husband was a police officer with bipolar disorder. He would not get treatment b/c he was worried about losing his job if people found out.

    It seems to me that the more stressful occupations should be the ones that support diagnosis and treatment.

  2. I have an acquaintance who is employed by a “top secret government agency”. He knew he was clinically depressed, but would not take traditional antidepressants due to the requirement to take an annual lie detector screening, addressing such things as drug use and mental health. He chose to use herbals and vitamins etc. I also personally know physicians who have refused treatment for depression due to the need to inform their state medical licensing bodies, be monitored, etc. It’s intrusive, and may prevent effective treatment in a timely fashion, not to mention the tendency of some to “self-medicate”. I notice the state Bar does not have such a requirement for notification of mental health issues…

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