Addressing the Risk Factors of Physician Suicide

Physicians work in extremely demanding and stressful environments. While this is acknowledged on the surface, not enough progress has been made to provide physicians the support or help they need in addressing their own mental health or the risk factors associated with suicide in physicians. While the culture surrounding physician health is changing by reducing the stigma of mental health conditions and putting policies in place to help physicians get the medical care they need, more needs to be done to protect our physicians. 

The risk factors for suicide in the medical profession are incredibly high. Long hours of treating patients and completing paperwork take a toll on physicians. The high-stakes environment of treating patients in serious medical conditions, whether it be an emergency scenario, surgery, illness, or injury, can cause stress on caring and dedicated physicians. The competitive nature of the medical workplace can serve patients well as medical advancements are made, but it can come at the cost of our physicians. Physician burnout is real and a risk factor for suicide. 

Suicide risk for physicians can be lessened if workplace conditions are improved to promote mental and physical well-being for physicians. This includes providing education in the workplace about suicide risk, fostering a healthy work environment, adopting policies to support healthcare professionals in obtaining the medical care they need, and ensuring licensing and employment processes do not penalize those who disclose their mental health conditions or treatment. 

Some of the common risk factors for suicide are disabling mental health conditions. These include:

Addiction and substance misuse can also contribute to suicide risk. Many people are able to hide these risk factors from colleagues and friends, but help is needed to address suicide risk factors, especially in the medical profession. 

In seeking treatment for mental health conditions, physicians need to feel that they will not be ostracized from the medical field for seeking treatment. Some of these treatments require a leave of absence from work. Fortunately, disability insurance benefits can help bridge the financial gap due to a loss of income from this leave of absence. A disability insurance lawyer can help you obtain short-term and long-term disability insurance benefits. Seltzer & Associates has experience working with clients with careers in the medical profession. We understand the demands of your medical career and the challenges you face in securing your disability insurance benefits. 

Physician Suicide Study and Report Findings

The medical profession takes the loss of life seriously. While that focus is primarily on patients and patient care, it includes medical providers. Attention needs to be given to our healthcare workers and their risk of suicide. 

The following findings were reported from the 2023 Medscape Physician Suicide Report:

  • 23% of physician respondents admitted to being depressed, with 24% of this group having severe depression
  • 9% of physicians who responded to the report admitted to having thoughts of suicide 
  • 1% of physicians who responded admitted to attempting suicide 
  • By specialty, those with the highest rates of suicidal thoughts work in the medical specialties with the highest number of job postings for physicians, implying physician burnout is a factor

Further, Mayo Clinic’s Physician Well-Being Index reveals:

  • Over 400 physicians die of suicide due to burnout in the U.S. each year 
  • Physicians have one of the highest rates of suicide compared to any other profession 
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death of medical residents in the U.S.
  • Physicians and nurses suffering from workplace distress have twice the risk of developing suicidal ideation 

All of this highlights the urgency for reducing suicide risk factors in physicians and providing the necessary support to help alleviate the underlying causes of suicide. It is clear that suicide risk factors such as depression, PTSD, and burnout, among other ailments, need to be treated as the disabling conditions they are so that lives can be saved.

Ways to Fight Against Mental Health Stigma in the Medical Profession

In recent years, the American Medical Association has recognized that changes need to be made to the medical profession to reduce the stigma of having or receiving help for mental health conditions. The Medscape 2023 report indicates that 40% of physicians responding that they have suicidal thoughts do not tell anyone about these feelings. 

By encouraging licensing boards to not penalize medical applicants for disclosing their mental health concerns or conditions, the door is opened for these applicants to seek the assistance and treatment necessary to treat suicide risk as the need arises. Professional associations can also encourage and make available mental health support programs. This could include access to private counseling or group therapy for stress, trauma, depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. Discounts or vouchers for services can be offered through medical boards and associations to encourage physicians and medical professionals to take advantage of these programs. Offering assistance registering to participate in therapy or scheduling a session on behalf of employees with permission removes the administrative barrier or mental load of completing registration for oneself.  

Changes to physician expectations, such as limiting the strenuous hours of work per week, can start with governing bodies, whether they be at the national, state, local, or employer level. Taking responsibility for the grueling workplace environment and enacting change can address the risk factors for suicide and improve overall physician health and well-being.  It is also important to recognize that many physicians are still suffering from the alpha of the COVID-19 pandemic and that the medical landscape has been forever altered. Based on experiences of the last several years, it is important that changes be implemented to preserve our medical community.

Systemic interventions to support the mental health of physicians and medical professionals are essential to reducing suicide risk in the profession. Reducing the stigma of mental health in the workplace is critical for improving outcomes. Employers such as hospitals, clinics, or other medical facilities can bring in speakers to address topics of mental health or suicide risk with their medical staff. Opening the dialogue on mental health conditions or addiction and the treatment and support available can reduce the hesitation of those suffering from seeking further information about available resources. 

Once these interventions, programs, and policies take effect, it is important to routinely monitor their effectiveness and adjust as necessary to support and protect physicians. Monitoring the programs will provide insight into how to reach and help struggling physicians and can direct the future of the programs to provide additional support. Fostering a supportive workplace where physicians can feel safe seeking help for their mental health is imperative to reducing the risk of suicide and addressing the underlying risk factors. 

Securing Disability Insurance Benefits Can Reduce Suicide Risk

Money can be a significant source of stress for anyone, even high-income earners such as physicians. Taking a leave of absence from a medical career to receive treatment may seem impossible to some physicians due to the financial stress the loss of income may cause. This escalating financial stress can exacerbate the underlying factors contributing to suicide risk. Uncertainty about the financial cost of treatment while losing income for an unknown amount of time can make seeking treatment more difficult for those suffering from risk factors of suicide.

Disability insurance benefits can provide peace of mind for those unable to work due to a disabling medical condition. Unfortunately, the disability insurance claim process is difficult and can be fraught with pitfalls that result in a denial of disability insurance benefits, especially when it comes to mental health conditions and physicians. Insurance companies may deny disability insurance benefits to physician claimants due to the following: 

  • The high dollar amount of benefits paid to physician claimants as a percentage of physician income
  • The possibility of the disabled physician being able to work in another capacity or job
  • Limited definitions within the disability insurance policy that limit coverage for mental health conditions

You do not have to face these challenges alone. Along with increasing support from the medical community, you can have legal support in your pursuit of disability insurance benefits. It is absolutely crucial that a physician denied disability insurance benefits work with an experienced disability insurance denial attorney to appeal their claim. Time is of the essence when handling an appeal for an adverse disability insurance decision. There are strict deadlines and proof requirements that must be met while appealing the insurance company’s decision.

Securing your disability insurance benefits while disabled and unable to work provides financial peace of mind to allow you to focus on treatment and address the risk factors of physician suicide. You do not have to face a denial or termination of disability insurance benefits alone, nor navigate a complex appeals process alone. Let Seltzer & Associates work on your behalf to preserve your disability insurance rights. 

Schedule Your Free Consultation with a Disability Insurance Lawyer 

If you are suffering from risk factors for suicide, it is time to seek an appropriate treatment plan and disability insurance benefits. Contact Seltzer & Associates to schedule your free consultation with a disability insurance lawyer to discuss your claim for disability insurance benefits by contacting us online or calling our office at 888-699-4222.