During an interview with Dr. Mike Myers, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at SUNY-Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, held last September, I asked how the medical workplace should respond in the event of a suicide by a physician. His suggestions were as follows:
• First, confirm it was a suicide.
• Next, reach out to the family the same as you would if the physician had had an accident or heart attack. Ask yourself if the doctor had died in an accident, would the medical staff reach out to the family? It should be the same response. Additionally, you’ll need to know and respect the family’s wishes regarding what happened.
• When seeing the doctor’s patients who inquire about what they may know, acknowledge the fact of the suicide and quickly bring the discussion back to the business at hand. You don’t need to provide any details about the death.
• The American Association of Suicidology and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention have helpful information about the next steps to take.
• As emotions regarding the suicide may be big, conflicting and raw, it is important to listen and acknowledge the feelings which are expressed. You may wish to use “critical incident debriefing specialists” to help defuse the raw emotions.
• It is very important to attend the funeral. Your presence will mean a lot to the family. It also helps to de-stigmatize mental illness.