A new analysis finds an astonishingly high rate of suicide among physicians in the following categories: those who were found unfit to practice; those in solo practice; or those who were taking benzodiazepine (anti-anxiety) drugs.
The analysis, published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, found that seven of 141 Tennessee physicians (average age 51) had attempted suicide and five had died — a rate that is 175 times higher than the rate of .02 percent in the general population of Tennessee.
“Being found unfit for practice means a loss of income, loss of social contact, and loss of social status. It’s very distressing,” said Reid Finlayson, M.D., associate professor of clinical psychiatry and medical director of the Vanderbilt Comprehensive Assessment Program.
Finlayson also noted that practicing solo can make physicians feel isolated. “It stands to reason. Doctors who are in large practices or who work at a hospital have colleagues who can see what’s going on with them. They’re observed and they can be pointed toward getting help.”
Furthermore, Finlayson added that it appears that the physicians in the analysis who were taking benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax had denied the treatment that was suggested and continued to take the medication up until their suicide.
“The extreme stress associated with practicing medicine and the relatively high rates of suicidal behavior among doctors make it important to be able to identify those who are at risk,” he said.
The analysis — called the Vanderbilt Comprehensive Assessment Program (V-CAP) — is designed to help medical professionals, business executives, and others become aware of emotional and behavioral concerns that could affect the quality of their work and life, including addictions and disruptive conduct.
Furthermore, the analysis also found that out of the five physicians who committed suicide, three were being investigated for their prescribing habits.
“That suggests that doctors who are taking benzodiazepines may self-prescribe, and may be more likely to be prescribing them too often for their patients, and contributing to the epidemic drug abuse in this country.”
Finlayson said that a close look at the interviews and extensive battery of testing done with the doctors who were under evaluation and that later committed suicide revealed little indication of suicidal behavior.
“Our next steps are to try and find some way to predict which physicians will try to commit suicide,” he said.
“This may be a bit premature, but the next time I evaluate a physician taking benzodiazepines, I will try harder to have them detoxify. Benzodiazepine use appears to be a risk factor for suicide.”
Source: Vanderbilt University