Suicide, mental health issues alarmingly on a rise among young doctors: Study

September 13, 2021 0 By Faizy Abdulkalam

A latest review jointly led by the Black Dog Institute and The University of New South Wales (UNSW), which was published in The Lancet, has revealed doctors are at increased risk of suicide and, in their early years of training, one-quarter to one-third reported significant mental ill-health. 

The researchers said that while this was an increasing issue even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there is emerging evidence that the impact of the pandemic is creating even more mental health problems.  

“There is a need – now more urgent given COVID – to intervene to protect and improve the mental health of doctors, with interventions needing to target not only individuals but, more importantly, their organisations and the wider systems within which they work,” said the lead author of the study Professor Samuel Harvey.

The research also pointed to a link between area of specialty and risk of suicide, with a 2019 review suggesting that anaesthetists, psychiatrists, general practitioners, and general surgeons might have higher rates of suicide than other specialists.

The researchers said the concern that there might be something inherently psychologically toxic about their work that contributes to the high rates of mental ill-health was escalated within the medical community after several high-profile suicide clusters among doctors. 

“We were concerned by the emerging evidence that indicates the situation may be worsening over time. While being a doctor has always been challenging and hard work, it may be that some of the factors that have previously acted as protective, in terms of mental health impact – such as job security, autonomy of decision-making and financial stability – have been eroded,” said the co-author of the study, Professor Kimberlie Dean, who is Chair of Forensic Mental Health at UNSW. 

The Black Dog Institute is a Sydney-based non-profit facility for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.  It was founded in 2002 by the UNSW School of Psychiatry Scientia Professor Gordon Parker and is based in Sydney, Australia.