Every day, one physician dies by suicide in the United States, the highest suicide rate of any profession. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, physicians who die by suicide do so because of risk factors that include mental health conditions which have not been properly treated.
Physicians, residents, and medical students all report high levels of burnout, putting them at a higher risk of dying by suicide than that of the general population. Causes of burnout include an increased workload, working longer hours, and a difficult work/life balance. Often, unaddressed mental illness leads to self-medication, which does not effectively treat the underlying condition. Those suffering may not reach out for a variety of reasons, such as fear of professional setbacks, the stigma surrounding mental health, or believing that, as healthcare providers, they are the ones that provide help and not receive it.
Raising awareness of suicide starts with a conversation. For many, it is conversation that they do not know how to initiate. For a friend, loved one, or even a stranger, that conversation could be the difference between life and death.
For a week, students on the Colorado Campus initiated the conversation about physician suicide to break the stigma surrounding mental health in medicine. They hosted events for National Physician Suicide Awareness Day on September 17th with the goal of challenging others to recognize the warning signs of suicide and approach those who are at risk.
On a wall display, students wrote down the things that make them feel supported and that “filled their bucket”. They also pledged to speak up when they are struggling, to reach out to loved ones, to listen without judgement, and to initiate the conversation. On Friday, students, faculty and staff wore purple in support of mental health awareness and held an informal gathering to share their personal experiences with suicide. Several students also participated in a Mental Health 5K Run over the weekend to raise funds for mental health research, education, and awareness.
If you know someone who is at risk, create a safe space and ask, “I’ve noticed you’ve been down lately. What’s going on?” or “Hey, we haven’t talked in a while. How are you?” Reaching out will lead to understanding, support, treatment options, and so much more. For those who are struggling, when they speak out, they will often find a support system of people willing to listen and help.
As more people advocate for mental health awareness, the resources available to those who experience mental health issues (as well as for their loved ones) increases. At RVU, students have access to several mental and physical health resources, including the RVU Counseling Center, wellness resources, mindfulness meditation, and emergency resources. Off-campus mental health resources include StudentLinc, a 24-hour hotline service, which can be reached at (888) 893-5462, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
At the end of the day, know that you do not stand alone.
 “10 Facts About Physician Suicide and Mental Health” by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.