Survey Reveals Quarter of Physicians Have Suicidal Thoughts

09 Mar, 2023 F.J. Thomas


Sarasota, FL ( – You may want to pay closer attention to the physicians you interact with, according to the results of a Medscape survey released June 28th through October 3rd of last year. Medscape polled 9,175 physicians across 29 specialties about their experiences with suicidal thoughts. The results indicated that almost a quarter of the physicians polled exhibited symptoms of clinical depression, with as high as 11 percent admitting to having suicidal thoughts, and 1 percent attempting suicide. Ironically, 14 percent indicated they did not trust mental health professionals. 

According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2020 there were 45,979 deaths due to suicide, equating to 1 death every 11 minutes. Overall, 12.2 million adults had serious thoughts about suicide, 3.2 million planned suicide, and 1.2 million actually attempted suicide. People 85 and older have the highest rates of suicide in the general public. While males made up 49 percent of the population, they account for 80 percent of suicides with a rate that is 4 times higher than female suicides. 

In the Medscape survey, 9 percent of males and 11 percent of female physicians admitted to having thoughts about attempting suicide. One percent of both sexes stated they had actually attempted suicide. While the rate of actual suicides are higher in males, according to Perry Lin, MD who is the national co-chair of the American Association of Suicidology’s Physician Suicide Awareness Committee, females are two to three times as likely to attempt suicide as males. 

When broken out by age category, ages 27 to 41 had the highest percentage of physicians at 12 percent that had contemplated suicide but had not attempted suicide. Ages 42 to 56 had the second highest percentage of physicians who had suicidal thoughts at 10 percent, and ages 57 to 75 had the lowest percentage at 8 percent. 

When broken out by specialty, Otolaryngology had the highest percent of physicians with suicidal thoughts at 13 percent, followed by Psychiatry, Family Medicine, Anesthesiology, Ob/Gyn, and Emergency Medicine, which all tied at 12 percent. Pulmonary Medicine had the least amount of physicians with suicidal thoughts at 4 percent, followed by Rheumatology at 5 percent. Orthopedics, Oncology, Radiology, Nephrology, and Dermatology all tied for third lowest with 7 percent of physicians that reported suicidal thoughts. 

Thirty-eight percent of physicians reported telling a therapist about their suicidal thoughts, which is an increase from 34 percent in 2019. Around 36 percent of the physicians polled stated they told a family member about their struggles with suicidal thoughts. Twenty-five percent stated they told a friend or colleague. Only 5 percent indicated they contacted a suicide hotline, and 40 percent indicated they did not tell anyone. Women were more likely to tell a friend or colleague, but men were more likely to tell a therapist and a family member. Men were also slightly more likely to contact a suicide hotline. 

While admitting to having suicidal thoughts is intimidating to the general public, physicians fear professional ramifications if their psychological struggles are revealed. While 52 percent reported that they felt they could deal with their suicidal thoughts without seeking help from a professional, 42 percent stated that they did not want to risk disclosure of the issue to the medical board, which equates to a 110 percent increase from the previous year. Additionally, 33 percent were concerned about the issue being on their insurance record, and 25 percent stated they were concerned about their colleagues finding out. Additionally, 14 percent stated the reason they did not seek out professional help for their suicidal thoughts is that they did not trust mental health professionals. 

Nine percent of male physicians, and 11 percent of female physicians indicated that they had experienced a colleague admitting suicidal thoughts to them. In response, 79 percent of the physicians polled stated they spoke with the colleague, 78 percent recommended getting professional help. Seventeen percent spoke to the colleague’s family member, and 11 percent spoke to their supervisor. 

Younger physicians were more likely to believe that a medical school or a health organization should be responsible for a medical student or physician’s suicide. Thirty-two percent of physicians aged 27 to 41, 30 percent of physicians between age 42 to 56, and 38 percent of physicians over the age of 57 believed that the medical school or the healthcare organization should be held accountable for a suicide. 

The American Association of Suicidology has a special committee dedicated to increasing awareness of suicidal issues among physicians, and are a resource for physicians who are struggling. Additionally there are other resources such as Physician Support Line at 1 (888) 409-0141, or PeerRX Med that are designed to help physicians that are struggling with their mental health.  

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    About The Author

    • F.J. Thomas

      F.J. Thomas has worked in healthcare business for more than fifteen years in Tennessee. Her experience as a contract appeals analyst has given her an intimate grasp of the inner workings of both the provider and insurance world. Knowing first hand that the industry is constantly changing, she strives to find resources and information you can use.

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