Reducing the risk of suicide in the medical profession
AMA Victoria was well represented at a forum in Sydney last week aimed at reducing the risk of suicide in the medical profession. Several members including Dr Tony Bartone and Dr Stewart Morrison attended, as well as Doctor Wellbeing Advisor Kay Dunkley. The program commenced with very moving personal stories from Dr Eliza Milliken and Dr Ann McCormack. Contemporary research into suicide was presented by Dr Marie Bismark from the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, A/Prof Sam Harvey Head of the Workplace Mental Health Research Program at UNSW and Dr Fiona Shand from the Black Dog Institute and the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention.
Two panel sessions and workshops followed. The first considered work environments and what is needed to reduce the risk of suicide. The second panel session reflected on the topic: “Doctors are people too - what makes us great and what makes us vulnerable?”
Although the outcomes of the discussion have not yet been compiled it was clear that a multifaceted approach is required and there is no quick fix solution. It was agreed that strong leadership is needed and top-down culture change is essential, noting that this must encompass doctors at all stages of their career and in both public and private practice. Systems issues around career development and workplaces could be addressed using levers such as college accreditation and enterprise bargaining to ensure that doctor wellbeing is prioritised.
One proposal was to make doctor suicide a sentinel event. It was also agreed that research is critical both as a lever for change and to assess outcomes after change. Individual self-awareness and self-management was viewed as integral, including the importance of every doctor having their own GP and no doctor self-treating. It was noted that health professionals, including doctors, have the unique risk of access to the means of suicide which emphasises the need to address factors which may result in suicidal ideation.
Doctors who are feeling distressed or having suicidal thoughts are encouraged to reach out for assistance:
AMA Victoria Peer Support Service 1300 853 338
Victorian Doctors’ Health Program (03) 9495 6011
Lifeline 13 11 14
beyondblue Support Service 1300 224 636