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Doctors' morale and well being
BMJ 2001;322:945 ( 21 April )

News

Stresses on women doctors may cause higher suicide risk

Roger Dobson, Abergavenny

Suicide rates among women NHS doctors in the United Kingdom are twice that of the general female population, new research has found. It also found differences in suicide rates between medical specialties, with anaesthetists, community health doctors, GPs, and psychiatrists of both sexes having significantly higher rates than doctors in general hospital medicine.

Researchers say that the high risk in women doctors particularly needs to be carefully monitored and that that stresses facing women doctors may be one explanation for the suicide rate.

"The excess risk of suicide in female doctors highlights the need to tackle stress and mental health problems in doctors more effectively. The increased risk is of particular concern in the light of the steadily increasing number and proportion of women in the medical workforce," says a report of the research in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (2001;55:296-300).

It adds, "The greater tendency of women to commit suicide by self poisoning---a pattern that is even more pronounced in female doctors than in the general population---might be part of the explanation for the increased risk in female doctors who would be very aware of what drugs are dangerous in overdose."

The study was based on deaths of doctors between 1979 and 1995 where there was a suicide or open verdict at inquest. Almost a third of the 329 deaths were excluded---86 doctors had retired and 20 were not on the General Medical Council's register.

The Oxford researchers also established that the rate among male doctors was two thirds that of the general male population, and the report notes: "This is in marked contrast with the general population, in which rates are considerably higher in men than women."

"The excess risk of suicide associated with general practice is of concern in the light of recent reports of stress and dissatisfaction among GPs," the report says.


BMJ 2001

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