Responding to two recent physician suicides in Missouri, MPHP arranged presentations by Carla Fine, a well-known author and speaker on suicide, at two Missouri hospitals. Our objectives were to help physicians and other staff deal with the aftermath of these two deaths and to encourage open discussion of the issue.
Often fellow physicians and others struggle to cope after such an unexpected event, and sometimes even blame themselves for not seeing it coming. Additionally, they face the challenges of handling the doctor’s patient load. “Physician health experts say doctors, nurses, and other staff should talk to each other after a physician commits suicide....Otherwise, what happens is it becomes unspeakable...” 1 Additionally, some experts suggest that the physician’s colleagues discuss what happened with patients. It can be helpful not only to the patients but opens up communication among physicians as well. Carla Fine recommends that they also initiate communication with the surviving family.
Because a depressed physician is often reluctant to seek professional help out of concern for confidentiality, licensure, loss of income or esteem, it is strongly recommended that a colleague who is concerned about significant changes in demeanor or behavior on the part of an associate encourage the physician to seek help from the state Physician Health Program, which can assist the physician while insulating them from licensing authorities.
The alarming statistics on physician suicide were a primary motivator of the founders of the Missouri Physicians Health Program to offer a program that could assist physicians in confidence. We continue to carry out this vital mission