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Suicide by health care professionals

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Health professionals are human beings — and therefore not immune to mental health problems

The paper by Milner and colleagues1 is a useful reminder that the medical and associated professions are not immune to suicide. Based on data from the National Coronial Information System, it is the most comprehensive study of its type in Australia.

However, as would be anticipated in an examination of a low base rate phenomenon such as suicide, even their 12-year sample included only 369 suicides in a wide range of health professionals. Nevertheless, when grouped broadly into medical practitioners (79 suicides), nursing and midwifery (216), and all other health care professionals (74), some significant findings emerged.

The importance of the availability of a means of suicide was confirmed, with increased rates of suicide among health care professionals with ready access to prescription medications. Also confirmed in an age-adjusted analysis was a significantly higher suicide rate for women in both the medical and nursing professions than for women employed in non-health care occupations, and a non-significant increase in the suicide rate for women in other health professions. There was no significant difference between the suicide rates for male medical practitioners and for men employed outside the health care professions, but there was a significantly higher suicide rate among…