Surgeons are much more likely to contemplate suicide than the rest of us, according to a study in the January issue of Archives of Surgery. Of 8,000 surgeons surveyed, 6 percent said they'd pondered suicide within the past year — a rate roughly twice as high as that reported by the general public. The surgeons weren't asked whether they had ever attempted suicide, but the study's authors say that as many as 50 percent of people who contemplate suicide actually try it. Why are surgeons prone to such dark thoughts? Three theories:
1. Blame the long hours
"If I were having surgery, I'd prefer my surgeon well-rested and in a good mood," says Aina Hunter at CBS News. Yet the surgeons in the study worked 60 hours a week on average, and 40 percent "felt burned out." Thirty percent reported symptoms of depression. Most said they worked so hard they had little time for personal and family life. "Few who worked less than 40 hours a week had suicidal thoughts," so excessive workloads are obviously a big part of the problem.
"Suicidal ideation common among surgeons: Why?"
2. Obsession with errors
It's not necessarily the exhaustion itself, says Frederik Joelving at Reuters, but the errors to which excessive fatigue can lead. Surgeons who said they'd made a "major medical error" in the past three months were especially prone to suicidal thoughts, with 16 percent saying they had contemplated killing themselves.
"One in 16 U.S. surgeons consider suicide: Survey"
3. They seldom seek help
Only one in four surgeons who had suicidal thoughts got professional help, says Lindsey Tanner at the Associated Press. By contrast, 44 percent of their counterparts in the general population sought mental health treatment. One reason: Surgeons worry that seeking help might have negative professional repercussions or affect their licences, says lead author Dr. Tait Shanafelt of the Mayo Clinic, so many stay under the radar by self-medicating with antidepressant drugs.
"Study: Errors lead surgeons to contemplate suicide"