Doctors save lives, everyone knows. So why do so many of them take their
It's a question that the AMA wants an answer to—and not just an
answer, but some concrete recommendations for ways to lower the risk of
suicide among physicians.
Jerry Halverson, M.D., tells AMA delegates that suicide is the
second-leading cause of death among medical students.
Credit: Mark Moran
"Over 300 physicians a year commit suicide," said psychiatrist
Jerry Halverson, M.D., a member of the AMA Section Council on Psychiatry,
during hearings at the House of Delegates meeting last month on a resolution
he wrote on the subject. "This is an alarming trend. Male physicians,
when compared with age-matched other professionals, are about one-and-a-half
times more likely to commit suicide. For females, the figure is three or
almost four times as
Moreover, "Up to 15 percent of students have suicidal ideation, and
suicide is the second most common cause of death among medical students, after
accidents. This is an acute problem."
Halverson has been a member of the Young Physicians Section (YPS) at the
AMA and an alternate delegate to the Section Council on Psychiatry. He is
leaving the YPS and joining the psychiatry section council as a full
The resolution, approved unanimously by the House of Delegates, asks the
AMA to collaborate with appropriate state and specialty societies to prepare
an updated review of the literature on the incidence of and risk factors for
suicide by physicians and medical students. The study should include specific
recommendations designed to reduce the incidence of suicide by physicians at
all stages of training and practice.
In an interview with Psychiatric News, Halverson said that the AMA
had published a position paper on the subject in 2003 in the Journal of
the American Medical Association. The "consensus statement"
was the work of 15 experts convened in 2002 in Philadelphia by the American
Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide.
The panel concluded that "the culture of medicine affords low
priority to physician mental health despite evidence of untreated mood
disorders and an increased risk of suicide." The panel added,"
Barriers to physicians seeking help are often punitive, including
discrimination in medical licensing, hospital privileges, and professional
Halverson said the statement was an important one with valuable
recommendations, but one that had lain dormant since its publication."
We want the AMA to look at this topic and come up with more concrete
goals," he told Psychiatric News. "We know that suicide
is a risk for physicians, and we are looking for the AMA to come up with best
practices and model legislation so that we can do something about
"Confronting Depression and Suicide in Physicians: A Consensus
Statement" is posted at<www.afsp.org/files/Misc_//JAMA.Physician_Suicide2003.pdf>.
The resolution passed by the House of Delegates is posted at<www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/475/a-09-ref-comm-d-annotated.pdf>.▪