Suicide in the medical profession – the myths and facts

Posted on 9th September 2019

Lorna MacGregor, CEO of Lifeline WA, says suicide is a low-prevalence condition, thereby making it difficult to establish statistically reliable data on discrete populations.

“It is generally considered that dentists, vets and other health professionals have higher suicide rates than the general population, but this is subject of some debate,” she says.

“Further confounding things is that different studies in different countries seem to find different professions at risk,” Lorna adds. “A study in the US in 2014 listed dentists as the profession with the highest suicide risk, followed by pharmacists, physicians, lawyers and engineers.

“However, a study in the UK found that while this was the case in the 1980s, in 2013 the top five professions were coal miners, merchant seafarers, labourers on building sites, window cleaners and artists.”

In September 2016, The Medical Journal of Australia undertook a retrospective mortality study of health professionals in Queensland. The study found that, in general, health professionals are healthier and live longer than the general population.

“However, research found an elevated risk of suicidal ideation and death by suicide among certain groups of health professionals, including doctors, nurses and dentists,” she says.

The research found some distinguishing features of suicides by health professionals:

  • They are more likely to involve poisoning than the general population
  • Women working in health professions appear to be at particular risk. In the general population, the male suicide rate is 3 to 4 times higher. In health professions, the female suicide rate is the same as the male suicide rate
  • The rate of suicide for health professionals with access to prescription medicine is higher than for health professionals without ready access to these means

Regardless of the statistics, the fact remains that mental health and wellbeing needs to be a priority for those in the dental profession. It’s important to reach out for support, advice and simple conversation, whether online, on the phone or in person. Don’t wait for burnout or crisis point to hit before you start talking.

Call Lifeline WA on 13 11 14 or Samaritans on 13 52 47.