Why ‘Happy’ Doctors Die by Suicide

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From Pamela Wible MD: “Ben was at the top of his game when he ended his life. So why did he die?

Underneath his irresistible smile, Ben hid a lifetime of anxiety amid his professional achievements. He had recently been weaned off anxiolytics and was suffering from rebound anxiety and insomnia—sleeping just a few hours per night and trying to operate and treat patients each day. Then his psychiatrist retired and passed him on to a new one.

Eight days before he died, his psychiatrist prescribed two new drugs that worsened his insomnia, increased his anxiety, and led to paranoia. He was told he would need medication for the rest of his life. Devastated, Ben feared he would never have a normal life. He told his sister it was ‘game over.’

Ben admitted he was suicidal with a plan though he told his psychiatrist he wouldn’t act on it. Ben knew he should check himself into a hospital, but was panicked. He was terrified he would lose his patients, his practice, his marriage, and that everyone in DC—team owners, players, patients, colleagues—would find out about his mental illness and he would be shunned.

The night before he died, Ben requested the remainder of the week off to rest. His colleagues were supportive, yet he was ashamed. He slept that night, but awoke wiped out on May 20, 2015. After driving his son to school, he came home and hanged himself on a bookcase. He left no note. He left behind his wife and two children.

I feel a kinship with Ben, partly because I used to suffer from chronic anxiety that I hid under academic achievements, but mostly because I’m a cheerful doctor who was once a suicidal physician too. In 2004 I thought I was the only suicidal physician in the world—until 2012 when I found myself at the memorial for our third doctor suicide in my small town. Despite his very public death, nobody uttered the word suicide aloud. Yet everyone kept whispering ‘Why?’ I wanted to know why. So I started counting doctor suicides. Within a few minutes I counted 10. Five years later I had a list of 547. By January this year, I had 757 cases on my registry. As of today that number is 1,013. (Keynote delivered at Chicago Orthopaedic Symposium reviews data and simple solutions to prevent doctor suicides).

High doctor suicide rates have been reported since 1858. Yet 160 years later the root causes of these suicides remain unaddressed. Physician suicide is a global public health crisis. More than one million Americans lose their doctors each year to suicide—just in the U.S. Many doctors have lost several colleagues to suicide. One doctor told me he lost eight physicians during his career with no chance to grieve.”

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9 COMMENTS

  1. In my opinion, the diagnosis is the main reason for suicide. Psychiatry uses it to imitate treatment, which in fact leads to suicide. It is better to pretend that the psyche is a disease than to accept psychological truths and to accompany someone in his hardships. We want to overcome it and cure it. We do not want to accept depression or psychosis, we want to cure it ( to condemn it, reject it)

    The specialist tells someone that he is not good enough to be human – the real meaning of mental illness. Only those normal, consistent with theories and claims, are true people. The rest does not exists. (Antichrist does not exists, and psyche is antichrist for theology and church)

    The state of materialists imposes on people the responsibility for a part of the psyche that a person can not control. Psychiatry also can not, but pretends to be able to. We must learn to accept what the psyche is, not what it should be, according to utopians -theologians, spiritualists.

    James Hillman Re -Visioning of psychology, Suicide and the soul.

  2. I haven’t read the article, just the blurb of it here. That being said, here’s my take on why the higher rate of suicide among physicians:

    Simply put, doctors have firsthand knowledge of what an institutionalized death (standard of care) truly entails; they have firsthand knowledge about the reality of (and consequences of seeking) “mental health care”; plus, they have access to the least traumatic means– drugs that will end their life effectively, quickly, and painlessly. Doctors are in a position of making a truly fully informed choice about their own end-of-life scenario, and they are in a position that allows them to enact their own choices without having to seek anyone else’s permission or assistance. If the regular Joes of society had the physicians’ access to unvarnished truth, and their access to easy means, plumbers’ teachers’ and waiters’ suicide rates would be as high as physicians’ rates.

  3. Another psychiatric success story!

    A very sad tale, that the doctor himself was taken in by the psychiatric/big pharma mythology, to the extent of being told he was condemned to a life of drug “treatment” and anxiety. No one apparently told him there was anything else he could do, and the “diagnosis” itself appeared to be the final straw. How very sad – no one created a safe space for him to talk about why his life wasn’t working for him, about the pressures and tensions at work and whatever else was happening, including the pressure to keep pretending everything was AOK. It is a classic example of how and why the psychiatric paradigm is not only not helpful, but significantly adds to the kind of problems it purports to know how to fix.