Suicide Rates among Doctors are Increasing—Do We Know Why?           

Isn’t it an irony? The hands that cure people’s lives at times are the hands that take their own.           

Subodh Zagade who is pursuing his medical studies (final year, MBBS) says, “Recent cut throat competition in becoming a postgraduate (specialist) is adding to the cause of suicide among medical students, as after MBBS many students study for 2 to 3 years to crack postgraduate entrance exam (NEET-PG), amongst them who are not able to crack the entrance exam end up in depression which further leads to suicide. Regulation of working hours and increase in PG seats should reduce the amount of depression amongst doctors and hence reduce the cases of suicide.”
            Case study – The statement comes after the recent incident where 26-year-old Mamta Rai, a doctor from Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, who had come to Kochi to attend a conference of dermatologists, was found dead in a hotel room. The police found a suicide note in which she said she had been battling depression.

There are various causes which push doctors to a breaking point. Some of them are:
1.         Violence against Doctors – Many doctors and medical professionals are putting their own life at stake in extending services to their patients. There have been increasing amount of cases of violence against doctors since last few years. 40,000 doctors across private and public hospitals in Mumbai “bunked” work last week to protest manhandling by patients’ relatives. This can be even because of the lack of trust between patient and doctor.

2.         Lack of specialised doctors in the country– The top 10 causes of death cannot be cured by MBBS doctors. For example, in post graduation in Pediatric there are only 31 seats available. Thus there are only 23,000 pediatricians in India while the requirement is that of 2,30,000 to bring down India’s child mortality rate. Therefore it naturally adds more pressure among the doctors who have done their post-graduation in a specified field as compared to the ones who are MBBS. This further aggravates the risk level among the specialised doctors.

3.         Death of patients – They are under constant stress of saving patients and therefore at times, death of their patients leads them to feel overwhelmed and guilty.

4.         Working hours – In India doctors and interns at times work for more than 24 hours at a stretch which further leads to unhealthy lifestyle, burnout, frustration, etc.

5.         Unrealistic expectations – Many a times getting a patient admitted is delayed by their families which further leads to more complications and they tend to expect doctor to undo their mistakes and try curing patients and make them completely fine which at times does not work out and eventually they end up blaming the doctors. Thus further adding to their stress levels.

How can we curb it?
1.         Regular screening – There can be a program which can be conducted in different medical hospitals and medical colleges which can focus on screening, assessment, referral and education of medical professionals and medical students. Such a program was first established at University of California in 2009 to prevent suicide among medical students, physicians and faculty.

2.         Changing workplace practices – Healthcare workplace is constantly evolving but it has become an increasingly pressurized, complex, chronic, and personally demanding arena in recent times. Some moderation can be made in terms of workload, time pressures, number of hours of posting at a stretch, etc.

3.         By citizens being more responsible and understanding – We need to keep in mind that doctors too are normal functioning human beings. They too have to deal with lots of problems apart from their profession like divorce, misunderstandings, financial issues, loss of loved ones, etc. Therefore citizens must be a bit more understanding and empathetic with them by not being aggressive and impulsive towards doctors which can further help them to reduce their stress levels.

4.         On site professional services – On site counseling and professional services related to mental health should be provided to medical students and doctors on hospital and college campus. There can even be self-help groups formed to discuss about their issues.

5.         Elimination of fear of stigma – In a study based on facebook survey found that nearly half (1000 out of 2000) of the doctors reported fitting in criteria of mental disorder but did not seek professional help because of the fear of being stigmatized. Many doctors struggling with suicidal ideation or depression never seek any psychiatric help because of this very reason.

Written By: Ms. Riddhi Panchal
MINDS Research Associate

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