Suicidal Ideation and Attitudes Regarding Help Seeking in US Physicians Relative to the US Working Population

Tait D. Shanafelt, Lotte N. Dyrbye, Colin P. West, Christine Sinsky, Michael Tutty, Lindsey E. Carlasare, Hanhan Wang, Mickey Trockel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To evaluate the prevalence of suicidal ideation (SI) and attitudes regarding help seeking among US physicians relative to the general US working population. Participants and Methods: A secondary analysis of a cross-sectional survey of US physicians and a probability-based sample of the US working population was conducted between October 12, 2017, and March 15, 2018. Among 30,456 invited physicians, 5197 (17.1%) completed the primary survey. Suicidal ideation in the last year, attitudes regarding help seeking, symptoms of depression, and burnout were assessed by standardized questions. Results: Among the 4833 physicians who responded regarding SI, 316 (6.5%) reported having suicidal thoughts in the last 12 months. Most physicians (3527 [72.9%]) reported that they would seek professional help if they had a serious emotional problem. Physicians with SI were less likely to report that they would seek help (203/316 [64.2%]) than physicians without SI (3318/4517 [73.5%]; P=.001). On multivariable analysis, symptoms of depression (odds ratio [OR], 4.42; 95% CI, 1.89 to 11.52), emotional exhaustion (OR, 1.07 each 1-point increase; 95% CI, 1.03 to 1.11), and self-valuation (OR, 0.84 each 1-point increase; 95% CI, 0.70 to 0.99) were associated with SI. Among individuals aged 29 to 65 years, physicians were more likely than workers in other fields to report SI (7.1% vs 4.3%; P<.001), a finding that persisted on multivariable analysis. Conclusion: In this national study conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, 1 in 15 US physicians had thoughts of taking their own life in the last year, which exceeded the prevalence of SI among US workers in other fields.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2067-2080
Number of pages14
JournalMayo Clinic proceedings
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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