Today, September 17th, is National Physician Suicide Prevention Day and September is National Suicide Prevention Month. While many of us tend to avoid difficult subjects like suicide, it’s important that we have these difficult conversations in order to help our peers and save lives. In this blog, we will take a look at some of the statistics around physician suicide and share some best practices for suicide prevention.
Physician Suicide by the Numbers
All of us have been affected by suicide in some manner. Physicians are impacted particularly hard. Within my sub-specialty association (Orthopaedic Trauma) alone, we have lost three colleagues to suicide over the past three years. More than 22% of physicians have had thoughts of but not attempted suicide. Nearly 40% told no one, and only 3% reached out to a counselor or hotline. (1)
In addition to large organizations like the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, experts like Pam Wible have dedicated their lives to bringing this issue to the forefront. It is difficult to have these conversations for many reasons – stigma, hospital reporting, etc. But these conversations are essential for getting help to those who need it and, ultimately, saving lives.
Start having difficult conversations.
Ok, they really are not that difficult, at least not for most of us.
Find ways to practice these conversations before it might be critical.
Even if you think your mind will never go there, create a safe space for someone else.
Suicide Prevention Best Practices
It’s important to remember that suicide is not an inevitability for anyone. Evidence shows that providing support services, talking about suicide, reducing access to means of self-harm, and following up with loved ones are just a handful of the actions we can all take to help others. (2)
- Reach Out – According to research, people with suicidal thoughts often find relief when someone simply asks how they’re doing. It may seem contradictory, but talking about suicide openly may actually reduce suicidal thoughts.
- Provide a Safe Space – Statistically, a person is more likely to commit suicide if they have easy access to lethal means (such as a gun). Simply removing these lethal means from a person’s environment can help reduce suicidal action. The safe space is also mostly the space to TALK.
- Listen without Judgement – Listening to a person without judgement can help reduce depression and suicidal ideation in that person. It can also help them feel more hopeful. Avoid saying things that convey a judgement of suicide or their feelings.
- Give them the Tools they Need – Getting a person at risk of suicide the tools they need to reach out when they need help is essential in preventing suicide. Help the person build a network of individuals and resources that can help them take positive action when they’re feeling hopeless.
- Stay in Touch – Staying in touch with the individual on a regular basis can play an important role in suicide prevention as well. This is particularly important for those who have been recently discharged from care services. (3)
Create a Safe Space to Talk about Suicide
Physician suicide is a serious and wide-ranging issue that we all need to address head-on. That starts with a crucial step – having difficult, honest conversations with our peers, friends, and family about suicide prevention. Doing so will create a safe space for yourself and others to have a confidential conversation among a trusted group should the need ever arise.
Let’s start having these conversations now, and PRACTICE before we ever recognize the need to have one that is more difficult.
Do you have something to share? Contribute! Email Team@SurgeonMasters.com
- Kane, MA, Leslie. “Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2020: The Generational Divide.” Medscape, 15 Jan. 2020. Accessed 15 June 2020.
- “We Can All Prevent Suicide.” Suicidepreventionlifeline.Org, 2019, suicidepreventionlifeline.org/how-we-can-all-prevent-suicide/.
- “How The 5 Steps Can Help Someone Who Is Suicidal – #BeThe1To.” #BeThe1To, 2019, www.bethe1to.com/bethe1to-steps-evidence/.