Why do Female Doctors Have Such a High Rate of Suicide?

14 Oct 2016

sara bird

by Dr Sara Bird

Woman's head down on her desk with medication sitting in the foreground

Is the risk of suicide higher for doctors than for those in other occupations? Researchers set out to answer this question by reviewing all deaths by suicide in Australia between 2001 and 2012.

Their study revealed:

  • the rate of suicide for female doctors was more than double that for women in other occupations (6.4 per 100,000 person years for doctors, compared to 2.8 for women in other occupations)
  • compared with men in other occupations, the rate of suicide for male doctors was the same (14.8 per 100,000 person years for doctors, compared to 14.9 for men in other occupations)
  • the most frequent method of suicide used by doctors was self-poisoning, accounting for 50% of deaths.

Access to prescription medicines is a risk factor in suicide by health professionals

There are higher rates of suicide by self-poisoning among doctors than by people in other occupations. The rate of suicide was 62% higher among health professionals with ready access to prescription medicines, such as doctors, than among health professionals without such access. Women are more likely than men to choose poisoning as the method of suicide, with the lethality of self-poisoning increasing with access to prescription medicines.

Work related psycho-social stressors

Doctors experience a considerable number of job stressors which have been associated with anxiety and depression, including:

  • work-family conflict – the researchers suggest this is a significant stressor for female doctors who are combining work, family and child care responsibilities
  • long working hours
  • high job demands
  • fear of making mistakes at work
  • exposure to vicarious trauma through contact with patients and their families.

This study reminds us all of the importance of looking after ourselves and looking out for our colleagues

Support and advice is available from your GP and the Doctors’ Health Advisory Service.



Doctors Let's Talk: Get Yourself A Fricking GP

Get yourself a fricking GP stat! is a conversation with Dr Lam, 2019 RACGP National General Practitioner of the Year, rural GP and GP Anesthetics trainee, that explores the importance of finding your own GP as a Junior Doctor.


25 Oct 2022

Systematic efforts to reduce harms due to prescribed opioids – webinar recording

Efforts are underway across the healthcare system to reduce harms caused by pharmaceutical opioids. This 43-min recording of a live webinar, delivered 11 March 2021, is an opportunity for prescribers to check, and potentially improve, their contribution to these endeavours. Hear from an expert panel about recent opioid reforms by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. 

Diplomacy in a hierarchy: tips for approaching a difficult conversation

Have you found yourself wondering how to broach a tough topic of conversation? It can be challenging to effectively navigate a disagreement with a co-worker, especially if they're 'above' you; however, it's vital for positive team dynamics and safe patient care. In this recording of a live webinar you'll have the opportunity to learn from colleagues' experiences around difficult discussions and hear from a diverse panel moderated by Dr Kiely Kim (medico-legal adviser and general practitioner). Recorded live on 2 September 2020.