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Arch Hellen Med, 26(1), January-February 2009, 36-41


Psychiatric morbidity in physicians


A considerable number of studies have demonstrated that physicians have higher suicide rates, and may abuse drugs more frequently than control groups. Physicians do not seem to suffer from depression more frequently than the general population, if compared with certain categories of doctors at risk for depression are those in their first postgraduate year, female physicians, and certain specialists, specifically anesthetists, general practitioners and psychiatrists. The suicide rate of male physicians is slightly higher than that of the general population, and that of female physicians is clearly higher. Physicians have higher rates of completion of suicide attempts than the general population, presumably because they have easier access to lethal methods and a better understanding of human anatomy and physiology. Alcoholism is another major psychiatric disorder among doctors, who are also more likely to abuse drugs, such as benzodiazepines, opiates and amphetamines, possibly because they have easy access to these substances. Doctors rarely seek help for their problems, and when they do so, they delay in arranging a consultation. The main reasons for this are the stigmatizing nature of mental illness (and consequent denial); misguided professional loyalty; attitudes formed during medical training; their perception of irrelevance of occupational health services and a tradition of self diagnosis and self treatment. There is no immunity to mental illness. Physicians need to be acutely aware of their own vulnerability and that of their colleagues. A more proactive stand on the part of the profession is required, to promote acceptance of psychiatric illness and to make confidential help-seeking as easy as possible for doctors. An overall change in attitude is needed for the stigma of psychiatric illness to be removed from the last people who should have to endure it, namely the mentally ill doctors.

Key words: Alcoholism, Depression, Doctors, Drug abuse, Physicians, Psychiatric disorders.

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