Physicians & suicide, a growing epidemic

Suicide among doctors is "a public health crisis"
Published: Aug. 15, 2018 at 4:03 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 16, 2018 at 9:16 AM CDT
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Brentwood Psychiatrist, Dr. Kay Kennedy talks with KSLA's Marie Waxel about suicide rates for...
Brentwood Psychiatrist, Dr. Kay Kennedy talks with KSLA's Marie Waxel about suicide rates for physicians/Source: KSLA News 12

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Suicide and doctors — it's the dark side of the profession that's on the rise.

Research by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), shows doctors are more likely to take their owns lives over the general population.

"The profession of being a physician has the highest rate of suicide, approximately 400 per year, so at least one a day," said Brentwood Psychiatrist, Dr. Kay Kennedy. "We're looking at it as a public health crisis at this time."

Kennedy said there's an even higher rate of suicide for psychiatrists and emergency care physicians.

"It's devastating for physicians, it's devastating for the family and the community. It's estimated that 1 million patients per year are affected by physician suicide, this is the person that they go to to learn about how to be healthy and it shakes them."

Kennedy, said there's a number of factors that increase physician suicide with burnout being at the top of the list.

"It's estimated that 40 to 50% of physicians experience burn out," she explained,  "It's even greater for women physicians. They have greater responsibility in the home, so coming up with work-life balance is a little more difficult for them."

Yet most doctors don't seek help.

"Physicians are concerned about confidentiality, they're concerned about the questions that the medical boards ask on licensing exams."

Technology is also becoming a greater source of stress.

"It's showing that physicians spent two hours on documentation for every one hour of patient care, and that's not what we went in this for," explained Kennedy who found herself on the fringe of a burnout earlier this year.

"I didn't ask for help and I almost didn't understand what was happening to me," she recalled, "Physicians that are experiencing burnout are feeling overwhelmed, they become more cynical, and that's one thing looking back I did. They feel less sense of accomplishment, underappreciated, sometimes the amount of work is so great and so many things are taking away from direct patient care that you just feel burned out or washed out."

Fortunately, Kennedy's administration stepped in and provided her with additional support. She's now making self-care a priority.

"It's good to practice general health habits like we prescribed to our patients. Exercise, eating well, sleeping well."

Kennedy said studies show physicians who take time during the day and take breaks and aren't working on those breaks do better and have a better sense of well being.

The third Monday in September has been reserved as National Physician Suicide Awareness Day. This year it falls on September 17th. Remember if you or someone you know needs help, Brentwood has a hotline available for  24/7, that number is (318) 678-7500.

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