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.”
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.