Background: Suicide is a disproportionate cause of death for US physicians. The prevalence of suicidal ideation (SI) among surgeons and their use of mental health resources are unknown.
Study design: Members of the American College of Surgeons were sent an anonymous cross-sectional survey in June 2008. The survey included questions regarding SI and use of mental health resources, a validated depression screening tool, and standardized assessments of burnout and quality of life.
Results: Of 7905 participating surgeons (response rate, 31.7%), 501 (6.3%) reported SI during the previous 12 months. Among individuals 45 years and older, SI was 1.5 to 3.0 times more common among surgeons than the general population (P < .02). Only 130 surgeons (26.0%) with recent SI had sought psychiatric or psychologic help, while 301 (60.1%) were reluctant to seek help due to concern that it could affect their medical license. Recent SI had a large, statistically significant adverse relationship with all 3 domains of burnout (emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and low personal accomplishment) and symptoms of depression. Burnout (odds ratio, 1.910; P < .001) and depression (odds ratio, 7.012; P < .001) were independently associated with SI after controlling for personal and professional characteristics. Other personal and professional characteristics also related to the prevalence of SI.
Conclusions: Although 1 of 16 surgeons reported SI in the previous year, few sought psychiatric or psychologic help. Recent SI among surgeons was strongly related to symptoms of depression and a surgeon's degree of burnout. Studies are needed to determine how to reduce SI among surgeons and how to eliminate barriers to their use of mental health resources.