Today in the United States has been designated ‘National Physician Suicide Awareness Day’. Do we need something similar here in the UK?
The organisers in the US claim that it will allow healthcare workers to commemorate lost colleagues as well as raising the profile of the issue internally within healthcare and externally.
Sadly, we have heard of a number of colleagues in recent years lost in this manner and an ever-increasing number suffering with mental health conditions. Doctors in particular may find it particularly difficult to seek help. The reasons for doctor suicides however go beyond just the mental health conditions seen in the general population. The position that we hold in society, one of privilege and responsibility can also ultimately lead to stress and a feeling of helplessness. With limited ability to talk about the emotional toll of their work, doctors often carry the stress of their work, leading to mental illness or even suicide.
The role of our regulator the General Medical Council (GMC) must also be considered. Complaints and referrals to the GMC have a significant impact on doctors’ mental health. Fear of erasure or sanctions, loss of reputation and good standing, loss of livelihood and careers as well as exclusion from social and professional circles can all lead to further stress and depression. It is therefore important that the General Medical Council fully appreciate their role in doctor suicides in the UK.
In her recent blog Dr Natalie Ashburner, DAUK Editor and Psychiatry Trainee found that “the Office of National Statistics showed that between 2011 and 2015, 430 doctors died by suicide”. Recent GMC training surveys have highlighted doctor burnout and a survey by Medscape in 2018 which collected results from nearly 1,000 UK doctors, found that 22% of doctors from all specialties feel burned out, 4% feel depressed and 10% feel both burned out and depressed. Furthermore, of these, only 1 in 10 said that they had got help or planned to get help.
The Doctors’ Association UK have been calling on the General Medical Council to assist us in collating accurate data on doctor suicides in the UK. We think that it is vitally important for us to fully appreciate the size of issue so that we can have the long overdue national conversation about doctor mental health and suicides. We’re collaborating with partner organisations such as Doctors in Distress founded by Amandip Sidhu after the tragic suicide of his brother, a Consultant Cardiologist.
Saving doctors’ lives ultimately saves patients’ lives.
Tel: 116 123
• BMA Wellbeing Support Service
0330 123 1245 (Open to all doctors & medical students irrespective of membership)
• NHS Practitioner Health Programme (PHP)
Tel: 0300 0303 300
• Royal Medical Benevolent Fund (RMBF)
• Louise Tebboth Foundation
• Doctors in Distress