Special Report: Suicidal Ideation Among American Surgeons

Arch Surg. 2011 Jan;146(1):54-62. doi: 10.1001/archsurg.2010.292.

Abstract

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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Burnout, Professional / epidemiology
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • General Surgery*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Quality of Life
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data
  • United States