Women doctors at increased risk of suicide

April 09, 2001

Suicide in doctors: a study of risk according to gender, seniority and specialty in medical practitioners in England and Wales, 1979-95 2001;55:296-300

Women doctors are more vulnerable to suicide than either their male colleagues or the rest of the population, finds a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Community health doctors, anaesthetists, psychiatrists, and general practitioners were significantly more likely to commit suicide than other members of the profession.

The research team identified all NHS doctors in England and Wales who had committed suicide between 1979 and 1995 from death certificates. They also used data from the Office for National Statistics to compare population death rates.

The results showed that 223 doctors had died by suicide or from an undetermined cause during the time frame of the study. Suicide rates were significantly lower among male doctors than the general population. But rates among women doctors were not only higher than the rest of the population, but significantly higher than those of their male colleagues.

General population statistics show that suicide rates among men are significantly higher than among women.

When the research team analysed the deaths by specialty, they found that anaesthetists were almost seven times, psychiatrists five, and general practitioners over 3.5 times as likely to commit suicide than other doctors. Community health doctors were especially vulnerable, being eight times more likely to commit suicide than other doctors, while men in this specialty were 12 times as likely as their female colleagues to do so.

"The increased risk in female doctors is of particular concern in the light of the steadily increasing number and proportion of women in the medical workforce," conclude the authors. They call for more effective ways of tackling stress and mental health problems among doctors.

Professor John Ashton, co-editor, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health M.Kit@downholland.freeserve.co.uk

BMJ Specialty Journals

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