Rochester, Minn. — Mayo Clinic researchers have found that one in 16 U.S. surgeons had suicidal thoughts in the previous year — but that few of them sought help from a mental health professional, Medscape Medical News reports.
“The fact that 6 percent of U.S. surgeons thought of killing themselves in the last 12 months is certainly very concerning (and is) even more striking considering that surgeons are highly educated, nearly universally employed and overwhelmingly (88 percent) married — all factors known to reduce risk of suicide in the general population,” says Tait D. Shanafelt, M.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Department of Medicine Program on Physician Well-Being, according to Medscape.
The mailed survey, conducted in 2008, elicited response from 7,905 members of the American College of Surgeons. Of those, 501 reported thoughts of suicide in the prior year.
The prevalence of suicidal ideation among surgeons ages 25 to 44 was similar to that in the general population. Among surgeons 45 and older, however, the prevalence of suicidal thoughts was 1.5 to 3 times more common.
The survey also found that of the surgeons who reported suicidal thoughts, only 26 percent sought help from a psychiatrist or psychologist. In the general population, 44 percent of people who have thoughts about suicide sought that kind of help.
• The perception of having made a major mistake in the previous three months was associated with a threefold increased risk for suicidal ideation, with 16.2 percent of those reporting a major error reporting increased suicidal thoughts, compared with 5.4 percent who did not report an error.
• Surgeons with suicidal ideation were more likely to have used antidepressants over the previous year (21.8 percent versus 4.8 percent) and to have self-prescribed the medication (15.7 percent versus 6.9 percent)
• More than one-third of surgeons overall and nearly two-thirds of those with suicidal ideation said they would be reluctant to seek help from mental health professionals because it might affect their license to practice medicine.
The survey results are published in the January issue of Archives of Surgery.