Why Are the Protectors of Life Killing Themselves?
One a day. That is about how often a doctor in the U.S. will take their own life. Some speculation exists as to why, but I think if we take a step back we can see that doctors are not only at a naturally higher risk for mental health struggles but also they are discouraged from seeking treatment. The consequence of needing psychiatric health care is losing their license, in other words, their career, their livelihood, and all of the years in medical school and large mountains of debt, all rendered useless.
Why would anyone risk that just because the treatment might help you feel a little better? Best to power through alone, and not tell anyone, after all, the other doctors all seem to be dealing with the regular exposure to trauma and overwork without any problems, right?
We expect them to work long hours and neglect their families for the sake of their careers, after all, medicine is a high calling, not just a job, right?
I think if we could make a recipe to cause a person to have mood disorders we could pretty much just copy what is expected of doctors.
The suicide rate among doctors is the highest of any profession. This epidemic is not unique to the United States, with many other developed countries recording the same phenomenon.
It’s No Secret Our Country Has a Problem With Health Care
But I think it is important to realize this is not a problem that is unique to our health care system. Although, one might hope researches could look for health care systems were doctors do not take their own lives at twice the rate of the rest of the population and see what healthy practices from those systems we might copy.
But what exactly is to blame for this alarmingly high rate. Don’t doctors love and cherish life? Don’t they believe the oath, “First, do no harm.” Doesn’t that apply to their own bodies as well as their patients?
10 Possible Reasons
- Doctors are exposed to trauma. Then they are refused treatment for trauma. Because if they ask for help or treatment their ability to practice medicine will quickly be called into question.
- Doctors are expected to overwork themselves. Having to cover nights and weekends isn’t enough. Many hospitals and offices require doctors to work upwards of 50 hours a week.
- This expectation that they will work not only odd hours, and often changing shifts, but also a whole lot of hours creates issues not only for their own personal mental health but also for their family and personal relationships. It also causes constant fatigue.
- In turn, those who are having trouble connecting with their family and significant other are more likely to suffer from mood disorders and mental health problems. As are those suffering from constant fatigue.
- Doctors themselves increasingly point to the amount of paperwork they are required to fill out as a big factor in their distress. Paperwork may not seem deadly, but did they just spend 12 years and thousands of dollars learning how to heal humans so they could spend 1/5 of their time filling out paperwork?
- Lawsuits are extremely stressful for doctors. They not only could lose their license but are often racked with guilt wondering if the patient would have been saved had they made a different decision. Of course, hindsight always brings clarity, and no-one who is overworked can make the best decision possible.
- We expect doctors to overwork themselves to the point of exhaustion and yet still make the best possible decision every single time.
- Insurance, arguably, has more control over a patients treatment and diagnosis than a doctor does. Doctors often find their hands tied when it comes to the best course of treatment for their patients. They are kept from changing lives before they even get started because the insurance company does not want to foot the bill.
- The pharmaceutical industry often makes the problem worse, showering doctors with bribes to use the best new yellow pill, and providing plenty of free samples. Prescription drugs are only hard to get if you aren’t a doctor.
- Since doctors are smart and have access to any number of lethal pills, unfortunately, their rate of success/per attempted to suicide is much higher than the general population. They often don’t get a second chance to change their mind and embrace life.
When Healers Kill Themselves We Should Be Worried
I wonder if it is possible that giving doctors more freedom would cause this deathly suicide rate to drop.
Free to seek counseling.
Free to treat patients.
Free to practice medicine.
Free to make choices without permission from insurance or the pharmeceutical industry.
Free to take a break.
Free to spend time with their loved ones.
The sad part is, we can’t ask doctors what needs to change after they have taken their lives. Those who survive can’t speak freely either, as that would also lead to a risk of revoking their license.
I want more out of doctors, better diagnosis, earlier treatments, options other than yellow pills, but until they work within a system that sees them as valuable and human, instead of as expendable risk factors, I am not sure there is any more they can give us.
Perhaps one way of addressing the upcoming physician shortage is taking notice of doctors complaints, and reworking healthcare from the inside out.