For the third annual observance of National Physician Suicide Awareness Day on Sept. 17, the President of the American Medical Association published an article addressed to their associated entitled Now’s the time to have a difficult talk about physician suicide.

Medical professionals burnout epidemic besides increasing doctors suicide risks, one million Americans lose their doctors to suicide. In the era of coronavirus, physician suicide risk has a special interest. It is known the vital role that these professionals play at the forefront of the fight of COVID 19. 

We have published last year an article about the increasing burnout of medical professionals (read HERE) now we excerpt what we think more relevant from a bioethical point of view of this letter published on the AMA’s website (October 16, 2020). 

Susan R. Bailey, MD introduces her letter with this phrase “As physicians, we are well-conditioned to deliver difficult truths to our patients whenever the situation demands it. We are not as comfortable accepting such truths about ourselves, even when we know that physicians can suffer from the same physical and emotional ailments that affect our patients—including depression and suicide.”

She continues “The facts are devastating. U.S. physicians have one of the highest rates of suicide of any profession. Multiple factors fuel this tragic situation. The modern working environment for physicians and other health professionals can best be described as high-stakes dysfunction. Physicians are under increasing demands and scrutiny to deliver quality care amid ever-changing rules and administrative hassles that interfere with their primary mission.”[…] “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this situation and brought physician wellness to a crisis point through increased social isolation, reduced access to community support and fewer opportunities to seek counseling or other mental health resources, among other factors.”

Talk about suicide is recommended

Bailey ends his letters “Finally, I urge physicians to join the movement to change the way we talk about suicide. A great deal of stigma and a sense of shame surrounds the phrase “to commit suicide.” The verb “commit” frequently has a negative connotation, and is often used when discussing crimes or sins. It needlessly distinguishes a self-inflicted death from all other types of death, conveys guilt and culpability, and depicts the person who died as an offender rather than a victim of a mental health condition. Saying that someone died by suicide helps dispel the sense of shame that still surrounds it.”

“We put our own well-being and that of our patients and colleagues at risk.”

The last paragraph is not of minor importance, “If we are to end the devastation wrought by physician suicide, a single day that calls attention to this crisis is merely a starting point. We must be vigilant for signs of burnout and depression within ourselves and among our colleagues, and we must not hesitate to seek help when we recognize something is amiss. Physicians have resilience and self-reliance in abundance, but when we rely on those traits above all others, we put our own well-being and that of our patients and colleagues at risk.” We expect that this timely letter will be useful not only to American physicians and medical staff but also to all those who practice medicine at the moment.




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