Background: Suicide rates for physicians are noted to be higher than for the general population, mainly related to high rates among female physicians. Female physicians have been reported to admit to significantly more suicidal thoughts than male physicians. Suicide ideation is a recognized precursor of suicide. The urgent need to examine the reasons for suicide risk among female physicians is underscored by society’s increasing dependence upon this group of health providers. Suicide impacts not only upon the physician’s personal circle, but upon the colleagues, staff and patients alike. We examine the relationship between work stressors and recent suicide ideation among male and female physicians in Sweden.
Methods: Cross-sectional questionnaire-based study including the General Nordic Questionnaire for Psychological and Social Factors at Work (QPS-Nordic), Physician Career Path Questionnaire (PCPQ) and the Mehan Suicidal Ideation Scale. The questionnaire was completed by physicians working at the Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm. Multiple logistic regression was used to identify sets of independent variables showing the strongest association with suicidal ideation within the last 12 months.
Results: Altogether 50 of the 385 Swedish female physicians and 42 of the 434 male physicians reported having suicidal thoughts within the last 12 months. Among the female physicians, adjusting for non-significant covariates: age, having a partner and number of children, the two work-related variables associated with suicidal ideation within the last 12 months were: having been subjected to degrading experiences at work (Odds Ratio (OR)=3.11, 95% Confidence Interval (CI) =1.52–6.38) and not having regular meetings to discuss stressful situations at work (OR=2.82, CI=1.04–7.63). Self diagnosis and treatment was also significantly associated with recent suicidal ideation. The same covariates were included for the male physicians, for whom having been subjected to degrading experiences at work was significant (OR=4.25, CI=1.60-11.25).
Conclusions: Albeit statistically non-significant, more than the expected number of female physicians compared to males had recent suicidal ideation. Recent suicidal ideation among both male and female physicians in Sweden showed a strong association with an important work stressor: having been subjected to degrading experiences at work. For Swedish female physicians, having meetings to discuss work stressors may be protective.