If you’ve been on the internet lately, you will have seen numerous articles about the University of Melbourne and Deakin study published in the Medical Journal of Australia today.
The researchers conducted studies of close to 10,000 suicides over 2001-2012, and found that female doctors suicided at nearly three times the rate of the rest of the population. While the suicide risk for female nurses was almost quadruple that of the general population.
This study was the first Australian study of suicide rates in the health profession. They also found that males in other professions had about half the rate of suicide than male nurses.
Some of the reasons identified for these statistics included, in brief:
- Shift work
- Stressful nature of the work
- Low control in the workplace
An interesting and worrying revelation from the study, was that many health professionals reported a fear of discrimination from their registering body if they disclosed suicidal thoughts or mental illness. What a tragic finding in these caring professions. It appears that we are so busy looking after our patients that we have forgotten our workers in the process. As lead author, Deakin University’s Dr Allison Milner said “behind every single one of these figures is a life and somebody’s story.” In order to ensure satisfactory care of patients, we need to ensure our health professionals are equipped to recognised their own self care needs. As the saying goes “you cannot serve from an empty vessel.”
According to the authors, the results indicated the need for targeted prevention of suicide by health professionals, and one the measures recommended to achieve this is for new prevention strategies to be implemented in healthcare organisations.
To use another analogy, we are exhorted on airplane flights to put our oxygen mask on before assisting others. Our reflection today is how do we encourage each other to put on our oxygen masks?
If you or anyone you know needs to talk to someone about workplace stress or suicide, call Lifeline on 13 11 14
For further information on this study:
The Study: Suicide by health care professionals: a retrospective mortality study in Australia