Focus On: Physician Burnout

Focus On: Physician Burnout

November 06, 2020
3 min read

17% of physicians have experienced suicidal ideation

Almost 1 in 5 physicians have experienced suicidal ideation in their lifetimes, a systematic review and meta-analysis in Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior showed.

“Compared to the general population, suicide rate is around 1.5- to 3-fold higher among physicians, which could be related to various factors, such as mental health problems (e.g., depression and anxiety), perceived medical errors, high levels of work dissatisfaction and burnout,” Min Dong, MD, a psychiatrist at the Guangdong Mental Health Center in Guangzhou China, and colleagues wrote.

Title: Suicidal ideation prevalence among 70,368 physicians:Lifetime: 17.4%, 1 year: 8.6%, 6 months: 11.9%, 1 month: 8.6%
Reference: Dong M, et al. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2020;doi:10.1111/sltb.12690.

“Understanding the epidemiology of suicide-related behaviors in physicians is important to develop effective measures to reduce the risk of suicide in this population,” they continued.

The researchers reviewed 35 studies that analyzed the prevalence of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts among 70,368 physicians from around the world. Studies that did not include specific suicide-related behaviors were excluded. If a dataset appeared in more than one published study, the study with more complete information was included. There were 12 studies conducted in the United States that included 32,119 physicians. The mean age of the participants in these 12 studies, when reported, ranged from 30.9 to 56 years and the mean percentage of men in these studies, when reported, ranged from 34.9% to 86.8%.

Dong and colleagues reported that the lifetime prevalence of suicidal ideation among all 70,368 physicians was 17.4% (95% CI, 13.8-21.8), while the 1-year prevalence was 8.6% (95% CI, 7.1-10.3), 6-month prevalence was 11.9% (95% CI, 2.7-39.2) and 1-month prevalence was 8.6% (95% CI, 5.6-13%). The lifetime prevalence of suicide attempt was 1.8% (95% CI, 0.9-3.7), while the 1-year prevalence was 0.3% (95% CI, 0.1-0.8).

In addition, subgroup analyses revealed that the lifetime prevalence and 1-year prevalence of suicidal ideation was significantly higher in Europe than the United States (20.5% vs. 9% and 12.7% vs. 6.6%, respectfully). The 1-month prevalence of suicidal ideation was significantly higher in studies with a sample size of less than 294 physicians (12.6%) than those with a higher sample size (12.6% vs. 6%).

The researchers encouraged implementation of interventions proven to be “effective” such as hotline services, self-care workshops and web-based cognitive behavioral therapy for physicians experiencing workplace-related stress, adding “regular screening of suicide-related behaviors could be useful to encourage early referral to mental health services if necessary.”