Female doctors and nurses at least three times more likely to commit suicide

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Women working in health professions have a rate of suicide which is three times higher than those in other occupations, says a new Australian study.

Researchers said they also found male nurses and midwives had close to double the rate of suicide compared with men in other professions.

This was the first time Australian researchers have conducted a nationwide review of suicides in the medical profession, and they say what they found was alarming.

The research revealed that female doctors take their own lives at nearly three times the rate of the general population.

Female nurses had a suicide risk almost four times greater than women in other jobs.

Deakin University’s Dr Allison Milner, the lead author of the research, said one factor for nurses was the fact that it was a “particularly stressful occupation.”

“The demands of the job include long working hours, high demand, low control over what they’re doing,” she said.

“As well as working in an environment that’s hard to work around your family time and flexibility with rostering.”

Dr Milner said that when looking at female doctors, many of the same explanations applied.

“There was a Lancet paper published in 2009 that also highlighted some of the professional factors that may be involved here,” she said.

    They may fear discrimination from licensing boards about disclosing thoughts of suicide, or disclosing mental illness.

‘Behind every doctor or nurse is a life with a story’

Dr Milner worked with two other authors from the University of Melbourne to analyse almost 10,000 suicide cases from 2001 to 2012.

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They found that about 3.8 per cent of those deaths were of health professionals.

“There has been research about 15 years ago that had suggested that female doctors in particular had an elevated rate of suicide, this was conducted in the UK and there’s also been some smaller studies in Australia.

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“So we thought that this was a pretty good motivation to look into this.”

Dr Milner said their hope was that peak medical bodies would use the published study to push for new workplace suicide prevention strategies in hospitals and clinics.

“Work colleagues that could be a helpful source of support,” she said.

“Addressing job demand, improving job control, making sure that long working hours are regulated. And, lastly, they need to make sure that there’s good rehabilitation back into work after someone comes back.

    I just try to remind myself that behind every single one of these figures is a life and somebody’s story.

The research has been published today in the Medical Journal of Australia.

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