It is estimated that the U.S. loses as many as 400 physicians per year to suicide. This is probably an underestimate, because the stigma associated with suicide may lead colleagues to attribute death to some other cause.
Suicide is the result of untreated or inadequately treated depression. As many as 12-18% of the general population suffers from depression at some point in their lives, with females more affected than males.
Physicians are no less likely to suffer from depression, possibly more so than the general population because of common personality traits coupled with high societal expectations of perfection. Women physicians have a higher rate than age matched women with other doctoral degrees. Up to 30% of medical students screen positive for depressive symptoms.
Physicians have specialized knowledge and access to lethal means. Therefore, completed suicide is more common in depressed physicians. It is estimated that suicide is completed 1.4-2.3 times more often in physicians than in the general population. Death by suicide in male physicians is 70% higher in comparison with other professionals. Female physicians have a completed suicide rate equal to male physicians.
Medicine is beginning to grapple with the issue of physician suicide through a variety of educational approaches, but progress is slow both because of stigma and lack of investment---until a suicide hits home.