SUICIDE HIGH AMONG FEMALE DOCTORS
MORE THAN DOUBLE THE RATE OF GENERAL PUBLIC from the Harvard News Office
(What the %@#*! Do you mean that in addition to the ER docs not looking anything like George Clooney and neurosurgeons being far from “McDreamy”, I am now at 2.27 times increased risk of suicide compared to the general population? I need a drink.)
“Male doctors take their own lives at a higher rate than the general population of white men in the United States. That’s been known for some time. Now, the largest, latest study of physician suicides in this country has found that female doctors take their lives much more often.
The study was undertaken by Harvard Medical School researchers following the death of a young female physician who took her life in the School’s library.
Eva Schernhammer and Graham Colditz examined the results of 25 studies of physician suicides and concluded that male doctors killed themselves at a rate 41 percent higher than that of other men and women. The more startling finding was that female doctors take their lives at a rate more than twice (2.27 times) that of the general public.
“We do not yet have a clear answer to why this is,” admits Schernhammer, who works at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard teaching affiliate in Boston. “There is evidence that depression, drug abuse, and alcoholism, possibly related to stress, are often associated with suicides of physicians. Female physicians in particular have been shown to have a higher frequency of alcoholism than women in the general population.”
The women may feel more stress because of gender bias and an increased need to succeed in this male-dominated profession. That seems likely, but Schernhammer says there have been no conclusive studies to back it up. She also notes that being single and not having children, which applies more to women than men in medicine, “has been linked to higher suicide rates.” (italics mine)
According to another study, done last year, the most common way that doctors take their lives is by poisoning themselves, often with drugs taken from their offices or laboratories.
Critical of themselves
The Harvard researchers published the results of their investigation in the December issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. In this report, they cite evidence from other studies that doctors who kill themselves “are more critical of others and of themselves, and are more likely to blame themselves for their own illnesses.”
Other studies conclude that doctors feel uncomfortable turning to their colleagues for help. Instead, they may “resort to alcohol or drugs and isolation. Once they seek help, it appears likely they are not taken seriously enough by their fellow colleagues.” One investigation found that more than half of physicians who sought help later committed suicide. Although they had been diagnosed with psychiatric problems, none were hospitalized before they took their lives.”
Read the full article in the Harvard Gazette (Feb. 3,2005)
Shoot, I better get married and start popping out kids fast! Oops, too late, there goes my last viable ovum. It atrophied while I was attending an interminable dinner in honor of the retiring department head, or maybe while I was doing a consult in the ICU, or more likely while I was watching the “Law and Order” marathon last weekend.
I can blame no one but myself, since I used to have a predilection for my emotionally unavailable colleagues who like to wield scalpels (even when they’re psychiatrists), plus my answers to the Medical Student Compatibility Test, I admit, remain mostly A’s.
But I refuse to hide behind the “men are intimidated by intelligent women” myth. Rather, I’d say women are more tolerant than men of self-obsessed, narcissistic workaholics particularly if they have an “MD” after their name and make at least a six figure salary. A reasonably attractive, open, kind, and considerate person should be able to find a loving companion even if they’re more intelligent, as long as they don’t:
Instead of blaming myself (which would make me self-critical and increase my risk for suicide), I blame the media. I blame “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”, “General Hospital”, and “Gray’s Anatomy” for raising my expectations that my romantic life instead of withering away, would flower and bloom during residency/ practice, just waiting for the hunky mountain man/ surgeon/ cranky but brilliant diagnostician beyond the double swinging doors.
I don’t want to make too light of something that is a definite health concern for myself and others of my ilk. Depression, isolation, substance abuse are risks for anyone in a demanding and stressful profession and single people usually have less family resources to rely on when these problems arise. But they don’t have to. Someone who is deliberately single (“single by choice” as opposed to “single by accident”, see links below) can cultivate family, community, and friends. I have a group of other single female docs I go out with regularly, sort of “Sex and the City Hospital”. At this point in our lives, we certainly have less stress than other working women who are juggling full-time careers and raising families, but we have to learn to deal with other stuff as well.
And if you really want to revive the single female physician’s will to live, just restore Dr. Doug Ross to his rightful place in the ER.