A chilling article recently published in MJA in September has described the female doctors’ suicide rate tops non-doctors. In a study performed by Dr Allison Milner, the research demonstrated that women have a higher suicide rate than their peers working in non-heath care occupations.
In the recent past, medicine as a profession has been well known for it’s bravado and hierarchy. One would sooner put one’s head down and “just get on with it” rather than openly discussing mental health concerns. However, it is becoming clear with statistics such as these that the profession needs to put mental health of our clinicians and trainees in the limelight. Training and securing consultant positions is becoming more and more competitive in today’s modern medicine and often comes at the cost of the mental health of our doctors.
Dr Milner’s data highlighted that female doctors are experiencing elevated rates of suicide compared with that of their male counterparts. This is in stark contrast with the general population, where suicide rates for men are nearly four times that of women. Finding the reasons for why women are at increased risk is challenging but hypotheses include gender discrimination and its effects on dynamics in the workplace, bullying and sexual harassment and pressures on women when they have families. It is likely that the reasons behind the increased suicide rates are multi-faceted but nevertheless encouraging open disclosure and discussion about mental health within our profession is important.
The roles of the supervisors of training, mentors and our colleagues become even more crucial with statistics like these. All too often it is easy to brush off a concerned colleague, a stressed colleague, an underperforming colleague with excuses that someone else might address it or it will improve with time. There often isn’t much time built into the busy schedule of training and day-to-day practice, to sit and chat about one’s workload and progress, let alone their mental health. However it is clear that we all need to be making the time and effort to do this. Perhaps given this published data we should also turn the tables on ourselves and make sure our mental health is adequate before setting to work.