The loss of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain last week is a reminder that depression and suicide can affect anyone. There has been a 30% rise in suicide rates from 1999 to 2016, according to a report released by the CDC on June 7, 2018. Suicide increased in almost every state, and killed more Americans ages ten or older than homicides did nationally. CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat noted, “Suicide is a leading cause of death for Americans—and it’s a tragedy for families and communities across the country.”
As physicians, we are not immune to the realities of suicide. Physicians suffer from higher rates of burnout, depressive symptoms, and suicide risk than the general population. Suicide generally is caused by the convergence of multiple risk factors—the most common being untreated or inadequately managed mental health conditions.
The suicide rate among male physicians is 1.41 times higher than the general male population. And among female physicians, the relative risk is even more pronounced—2.27 times greater than the general female population. According to one study, physicians who took their lives were less likely to be receiving mental health treatment compared with non-physicians who took their lives even though depression was found to be a significant risk factor at approximately the same rate in both groups.
What can you do? Know the signs and don’t be afraid to ask for help. As physicians we also need to take care of ourselves. Past ACOG President Dr. Mark De Francesco’s task force on physician wellness compiled several resources for ob-gyns to help cope with several issues such as adverse events and burnout. You can find additional resources here.
Ob-gyns also have a unique opportunity to play a pivotal in women’s mental health. ACOG recommends screening for depression at least once in the perinatal period. Visit ACOG’s resource overview on depression and postpartum depression for more information.
More recently, ACOG also released two new committee opinions pertinent to helping ob-gyns address mental health. In Committee Opinion 736: Optimizing Postpartum Care, ACOG emphasizes the importance of the fourth trimester. By increasing touch points with patients and asking questions, ob-gyns can better understand and assist new mothers. Committee Opinion 740: Gynecologic Care for Adolescents and Young Women with Eating Disorders highlights how the annual well women visit can serve as a women’s gateway to other health services, including mental health or behavioral health services.
Don’t underestimate the value of simply listening. If you know someone who might be suffering from suicidal thoughts, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call (800) 273-TALK.