#MentalHealth: How to prevent suicide among doctors

The medical fraternity is scrambling to find answers about the mental health of young doctors in India. Recent cases of medical students ending their lives have raised concerns. Dr Yusuf Matcheswalla speaks about the issue of doctor’s suicide and also helps us lookout for the warning signs. Read on to know about the measures to prevent suicide


medical student
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Suicide is a burning issue not just in the medical fraternity as the immense pressure takes a toll on the mental health of doctors.

According to health experts, the suicide prevalence among doctors and medical students is 28 to 40 per one lakh. And it is the second leading cause of death among young adults.

Is the mental health of young doctors in India is at a tipping point? The medical fraternity is scrambling to find answers to this burning question. Young medical students, in India, are taking an extreme step of ending their lives.

Recently, one Dr Payal Tadwi, from Maharashtra, committed suicide due to ragging from seniors. And a few days ago, Dr Vineeth Nair, a from BRD medical college, Gorakhpur, took this extreme step.

Over 800,000 people die by suicide annually, representing 1 person every 40 seconds. Suicide is the 15th leading cause of death globally, account for 1.4% of all deaths. Rate of completed suicide is much higher in doctors as compared to general population.

1 in 10 college students has seriously considered suicide. Suicidal thoughts, making plans for suicide, and suicide attempts are higher among adults aged 18 to 25 than among adults over the age of 26. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds.

Dr Yusuf Matcheswalla, a senior psychiatrist from Mumbai’s Gokuldas Tejpal Hospital provides statistics on doctor’s suicide and also informs us about the warning signs of suicide. He also provides safety measures to prevent suicide among doctors.

Doctor suicide

  • 400 physician suicides per year
  • Doctors: 28-40/100,000
  • General population: 12.3/100,000
  • Male doctors commit suicide at a rate of 70% higher than other professionals
  • Female doctors commit suicide at a rate of 250-400% higher than other professionals
  • Over a million patients lose their physician to suicide each year

Why are medical students more vulnerable?

Extreme working hours, pressure of competition, chronic sleep deprivation, low financial security/ debts for medical education, high levels of frustration,  and increasing attacks on doctors are some of the reasons which can push medical students off the brink.

With all the emerging lifestyle changes and low frustration tolerance the youth is nowadays more prone to slip to depression, have anxiety issues and more likely to commit suicide than youth of yesterday.

Depression is the most common psychiatric disorder in people who die by suicide, 50% of individuals in high income countries who die by suicide have a major depressive disorder at their time of death

Warning signs of suicide

  • Reckless behaviour or use of substance
  • Feeling trapped
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Sleep difficulties, especially insomnia
  • Dramatic changes in mood
  • No sense of purpose in life

Ask about suicide

  • Don’t hesitate to raise the subject.
  • Be direct, but non-confrontational. Engage them:
  • Are you thinking about suicide?
  • What thoughts or plans do you have?
  • Are you thinking about harming yourself, ending your life?
  • How long have you been thinking about suicide?
  • Have you thought about how you would do it?
  • Do you have _____ (Insert means, weapon, etc.)
  • Do you really want to die, or do you want the pain to go away?

Steps for suicide prevention

  • Show you care
  • Be Genuine
  • Look for warning signs
  • Ask about Suicide
  • Ask about treatment
  • Getting help
  • Treat a diagnosable psychiatric disorder
  • Build resilience
  • Provide psychological first aid

Show you care

  • Take ALL talk of suicide seriously. If you are concerned that someone may take their life, trust your judgment.
  • Listen carefully.
  • Reflect what you hear.
  • Use language appropriate for the age of the person involved.

Getting help

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Know referral resources
  • Reassure the person
  • Encourage the person to participate in the helping process
  • Encourage the suicidal person to identify other people in their lives who can also help.

Outline a safety plan:

Make arrangements for the helper to come to you OR take the person directly to the source of help. Once therapy (or hospitalisation) is initiated, be sure the suicidal person is following through with appointments and medications.