Increase in the rate of suicides among medical professionals
Long working hours, taxing medical training, violence against doctors, and stress of saving lives, are some major factors
New Delhi, January 22, 2018: In a recent incident, a 26-year-old lady doctor from Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, who had come to Kochi to attend a conference of dermatologists, was found dead in a hotel room. The police found a suicide note from the room in which she cites her battle with depression as the reason for the extreme step. Identified as Mamta Rai, the girl was a former student of AIIMS and was working there.
Estimates indicate that there has been an increase in the rate of suicides among medical professionals (students and doctors). In India, about 37.8% suicides happen in the age group of 15 to 29 years and 51% of these are committed by students and young professionals, the future of our country. In a study conducted in 1996, and again in 2005, it was found that the rate of committing suicide is more likely in female physicians than the males. Additionally, doctors are about 1.87 times as likely to commit suicide than those in other areas of work.
Speaking about this, Padma Shri Awardee Dr K K Aggarwal, President Heart Care Foundation of India (HCFI) and Immediate Past National President Indian Medical Association (IMA), said “Physician suicide is a public health crisis and needs to be tackled before it is too late. It is a well-known fact that doctors often do shifts that sometimes last 24 hours without any break or time to eat in between. Practicing physicians and medical students sometimes must bear punishing workloads. They may also end up taking the blame if something goes wrong or even become frustrated with the changing work culture. Medical students often suffer from depression. Their training is extremely taxing and can take a toll on their mental and physical health. A student may have been a topper in school, but things change when they enter medical college. Not being able to score as well can also lead to depression after a point. It is estimated that about 15% to 30% of the medical students and residents suffer from depression. Medical professionals are also not very comfortable seeking help for the fear of losing licenses or simply because of the feeling that patients may not trust them with their life.”
To err is human – yet when mistakes are made on the part of doctors, they’re publicly shamed. Many continue to suffer the agony of harming someone else — unintentionally — for the rest of their lives.
Adding further, Dr Ravi Wankhedkar National President IMA said, “Doctors have personal problems too, just like everyone else. They face divorce, custody battles, infidelity, disabled children, and deaths in families. Working for about 60 to hours per week – and sometimes more – immersed in personal losses means they often have no time to deal with their loss. Ignoring doctor suicides will only lead to more such losses. Suicide is preventable. Healers, after all, also need healing.”
It is important to address the concerns of students and healthcare professionals and identify the signs of depression, etc. in the early stages if suicides are to be prevented. Some steps that can be taken include:
- Time for rest and recreation: stress and long working hours can cause burnout. This is one of the main reasons for physical and mental attrition. There should be adequate manpower for staff to work in shifts and get enough rest and recreation.
- Medical students and patients should take care to indulge in physical activities in order to keep fit. They should take care to eat healthy and accept support and help from peers and family. They should also not feel hesitant in asking for professional help if they suffer from depression.
- Small groups can be made in colleges, which can meet regularly to discuss the issues that students or seniors face in their day-to-day life. Picnics can be organized to have some time off from the heavy schedule.
- Colleges and hospitals can have Suicide Hotline / Counseling Services
- Doctors are aware of what medications to take and this use of non-prescription drugs should be regulated through appropriate measures.