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Depression among physicians is growing more common, with 15% reporting feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide.
It’s natural to feel down sometimes. You might struggle to get out of bed or lose interest in things that make you happy. But when these feelings become pervasive, it could be a sign you’re suffering from depression.
As common in the medical profession as in the general population, depression affects an estimated 12% of males and up to 19.5% of females, according to a 2018 Medscape study. It is even more common among medical students and residents, with 15-30% screening positive for depressive symptoms.
Physician depression can lead to increased medical errors, lower patient satisfaction scores and higher rates of turnover. Outside of work, depression can result in broken relationships and substance abuse problems.
The issue becomes further compounded by the fact that physicians are often reluctant to seek treatment for mental health issues, leading to feelings of isolation and hopelessness.
Sadness is only a small part of depression. In fact, you may not feel sadness at all. Depression has many other symptoms, both mental and physical. If you experience any of the following for longer than two weeks, you could be suffering from depression:
One of the most common symptoms, often described as a feeling of "emptiness"
Feeling misplaced anger or aggression toward coworkers and loved ones
Feelings of worthlessness
Interpreting minor setbacks as personal failures
Overwhelming feelings of exhaustion, coupled with insomnia or the need to sleep all the time
Appetite & weight changes
May result in significant weight gain or loss (when not dieting)
Loss of interest
No longer looking forward to hobbies or activities that used to bring you joy
Problems focusing on the task at hand and difficulty making decisions
Thoughts of death or suicide
Recurrent thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideation
One physician per day commits suicide in the U.S., resulting in the highest suicide rate of any profession. According to Medscape, the physician rate is more than double that of the general population (28-40 per 100,000 compared with 12.3 per 100,000).
Often, physicians who commit suicide suffer from untreated or under-treated mental health issues, such as depression or burnout. Just 13% of physicians report seeing a professional to deal with mental health issues, with more than 60% saying they have not sought help or counseling.
Suicide can start with ideation, or the contemplation of ending one’s own life. These thoughts may arise in people who feel completely hopeless or believe they can no longer cope with their life situation. Warning signs include:
|Suicide Warning Signs|
|Feeling like a burden||Increased use of alcohol, drugs||Depression|
|Believing there’s no reason to live||Acting recklessly||Loss of interest|
|Feeling trapped||Isolation from friends, family||Humiliation|
|Experiencing unbearable pain||Sleeping to much or too little||Irritability|
|Feeling empty or hopeless||Aggression||Anxiety|
|Thinking about death often||Telling loved ones goodbye||Rage|
It’s time to find help. Talk to your physician or use a wellness lifeline.