A history of physician suicide in America

J Med Humanit. 2012 Dec;33(4):219-44. doi: 10.1007/s10912-012-9182-8.


Over the course of the last century, physicians have written a number of articles about suicide among their own. These articles reveal how physicians have fundamentally conceived of themselves, how they have addressed vulnerability among their own, and how their self-identification has changed over time, due, in part, to larger historical changes in the profession, psychiatry, and suicidology. The suicidal physician of the Golden Age (1900-1970), an expendable deviant, represents the antithesis of that era's image of strength and invincibility. In contrast, the suicidal physician of the modern era (1970 onwards), a vulnerable human being deserving of support, reflects that era's frustration with bearing these unattainable ideals and its growing emphasis on physician health and well-being. Despite this key transition, specifically the acknowledgment of physicians' limitations, more recent articles about physician suicide indicate that Golden Age values have endured. These persistent emphases on perfection and discomfort with vulnerability have hindered a comprehensive consideration of physician suicide, despite one hundred years of dialogue in the medical literature.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Female
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physician Impairment / psychology*
  • Physician Impairment / statistics & numerical data
  • Physicians / history
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychiatry / history*
  • Psychiatry / statistics & numerical data
  • Self Concept
  • Suicide / history*
  • Suicide / psychology
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data
  • United States / epidemiology