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Warning over suicide risk for female doctors

Monday 10th September 2018
The high risk of mental health and suicide problems for female doctors has been revealed.
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Female doctors are one of the most vulnerable groups in society when it comes to mental health problems, a body set up to help doctors with such problems has said.

Dr Clare Gerada, director of the NHS Practitioner Health Programme (PHP) set up to help doctors with mental health issues, told the Victoria Derbyshire Programme on BBC Radio Five Live: "Doctors are at an incredibly high risk for mental illness," adding that female medics are four times as likely to commit suicide as the population as a whole. 

Female doctors account for more than two-thirds of the 5,000 cases the PHP has dealt with in the last decade. The average age of those affected has fallen over that time from 51.6 years to 38.9.

A problem for many doctors is anonymity; they can only self-refer anonymously to the PHP if they work in London, something that may deter doctors elsewhere from seeking help. Others have to refer via their local clinical commissioning group, meaning anonymity is lost.

Data from the Office for National Statistics has revealed that 430 health professionals took their own lives in England between 2011 and 2015 and the problem has been highlighted by Dr Laurel Spooner, a GP whose daughter Sophie also entered the profession, but committed suicide last year after suffering a panic attack on a paediatrics ward.

Speaking to the programme, Dr Spooner said her daughter had received insufficient help after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Speaking of her daughter's situation, she said: "She was looking for a mental health service that would have understood her mental health problem in the context of being a doctor.

"If she could have seen somebody […] and had the right medication, I expect she would still be here."

The latest report by the Samaritans revealed that in 2017, there were 5,821 suicides in the UK. In contrast with the situation facing female doctors, in the wider population, men are three times as likely to kill themselves, with this being the most common killer for men aged under 45. 

However, the male suicide rate has declined in the UK overall, although it has risen in Scotland. 

Written by Angela Newbury

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