OBJECTIVE: Studies examining suicide rates for U.S. women physicians and other U.S. women have found odds ratios as high as 4 to 1. Although such reports are controversial and are based on small groups (N = 17 to 49 suicides), they are often cited as evidence of a high prevalence of psychopathology among women physicians.
METHOD: The authors used the results of the Women Physicians’ Health Study (N = 4,501), a large, nationally distributed questionnaire, to assess the lifetime prevalence of self-identified depression and suicide attempts among U.S. women physicians.
RESULTS: An estimated 1.5% (N = 61) of U.S. women physicians have attempted suicide, and 19.5% (N = 808) have a history of depression. Those who were born in the United States, were not Asian, had histories of cigarette smoking, alcohol abuse or dependence, sexual abuse, domestic violence, poor current mental health, more severe harassment, or a family history of psychiatric disorders were significantly more likely to report suicide attempts or depression. Depression was more common among those who were not partnered, were childless, had a household gun, had more stress at home, drank alcohol, had worse health, or had a history of obesity, chronic fatigue syndrome, substance abuse, an eating disorder, or another psychiatric disorder and among those who reported working too much, career dissatisfaction, less control at work, and high job stress. Strata reporting higher rates of depression tended to show higher (although usually nonsignificant) rates of suicide attempts.
CONCLUSIONS: Depression is approximately as common among U.S. women physicians as among other U.S. women, but suicide attempts may be fewer. A number of conditions may help identify women physicians at high risk for suicide attempts and depression.
Frank E, Dingle