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Meta-Analysis Finds ‘Relatively High’ Rate of Suicidal Behaviors Among Physicians

October 19, 2020

The prevalence of suicide-related behaviors among physicians is “relatively high,” according to a systematic review and meta-analysis published online in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.

“Compared to the general population, physicians have higher awareness about mental health problems and suicide prevention,” researchers wrote. “Of note, however, the lifetime prevalence of suicidal ideation in physicians was higher than that in the general population, which may be related to the high rates of depression and work burnout among physicians.”

The meta-analysis, which included 35 studies spanning 70,368 physicians, identified a lifetime prevalence of suicidal ideation of 17.4%. The 1-year prevalence of suicidal ideation was 8.6%, the 6-month prevalence was 11.9%, and the 1-month prevalence was 8.6%.

Remembering Dr. Lorna Breen on National Physician Suicide Awareness Day

Subgroup analyses showed a significantly higher lifetime and 1-year prevalence of suicidal ideation among physicians in Europe (20.5% and 12.7%, respectively), researchers reported,  compared with the Americas (9% and 6.6%, respectively).

For suicide attempt among all physicians in the meta-analysis, researchers found a lifetime prevalence of 1.8% and a 1-year prevalence of 0.3%.

“Appropriate preventive and treatment measures should be implemented to reduce the risk of suicide‐related behaviors in this population,” researchers advised.

“Effective suicide preventive programs to reduce the psychological distress, sleeping disturbances, and work harassment faced by physicians should be provided, such as hotline services, self‐care workshops, and Web‐based cognitive behavioral therapy,” they wrote. “In addition, regular screening of suicide‐related behaviors could be useful to encourage early referral to mental health services if necessary.” 

—Jolynn Tumolo


Dong M, Zhou FC, Xu SW, et al. Prevalence of suicide-related behaviors among physicians: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. 2020 October 6;[Epub ahead of print].

Prevalence of suicide-related behaviors among physicians [press release]. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley; October 7, 2020.

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