I don’t mean this figuratively. This is a literal recommendation. Do not commit suicide. There I said it. No one else seems to want to talk about it but doctors do kill themselves. A lot. In fact, our suicide rate is much higher than the rest of the general population. This is more than troubling. This is mind blowing. I have known about a half dozen physicians who have taken their own lives over the years. One hung himself from a tree outside his house. One performed hari-kari with a knife in his car. Another one put a bullet in his head. Seems like a lot, doesn’t it? Do you know why? Because it is!
How could someone who spent 4 years in college, 4 years in medical school and 3 to 7 years in residency decide to take his or her own life? Because we can. And because we don’t take care of each other.
There are a ton of theories out there on why doctors commit suicide. Honestly, this isn’t much of a mystery. The pressure is tremendous. The lack of gratitude by patients and employers is painful. The feeling of “is this all there is?” is overwhelming. We are working harder, getting paid less and with more and more mandates put upon us. The list goes on and on. Here is a little secret. The job has sucked the life out of us. Doctors are getting more and more depressed and the number of us that suffer with depression are growing in epidemic proportions.
But don’t doctors have the world by the balls? Not quite. We have sold our souls and youth and health and relationships to get here, and now that we are here, we feel alone in our misery. Add that loneliness to the other factors mentioned above, which results in, ta da, depression. So why don’t we tell anyone about it? Because that makes you unfit to be a doctor and anyone you tell is liable for not reporting you. How unbelievable is that? No doctor wants that stigma. And we all want to keep our job.
It is also a pride issue. Many of my medical partners (including myself) probably needed, but did not take, antidepressants in the past. We were too strong for that. Some got counseling but that was rare. Instead, we suffered in silence just like so many other doctors do out there.
So what’s the answer? That isn’t easy, and I will point out some other recommendations as this series goes on, but first we need anonymity. We need to feel secure that our jobs are not threatened when we spill our guts. That is a long way from happening since we have lost control of this profession. So let me give you one more recommendation – foster, build and maintain your friendships especially with other doctors. We need to stop being loners. We need to hang out with each other more. We need to fight this loneliness and realize others are walking in the same footsteps as we are. We need to be able to trust each other, talk to each other and hang out with each other. This decreases after college, gets worse after medical school, tapers to a dribble during residency and then gets cut off once you enter the medical world. That is when we start to isolate ourselves and then we kill ourselves. We need to be able to commiserate with each other. No man or woman is an island. Not even a doctor.