“Died suddenly at home” is not a diagnosis. How medical institutions cover up suicides.

suicide

This week I learned of yet another medical student suicide. Ari Frosch, a second-year student at Penn, died by suicide by walking onto the northbound tracks as a Boston-bound Amtrak train passed through Mansfield station. Amtrak trains do not stop at Mansfield station. Police have surveillance tape of the victim trespassing and walking right onto the tracks. There’s no mystery surrounding this medical student’s very public suicide.

Yet his medical school reports that Ari died suddenly last week at home with family in Newton, Massachusetts. Except that he was not in Newtown. He was in Mansfield. He was not with his family. He was not even at home. He was at a railroad station—where he died. 

Why hide the truth in a lie? So nobody will know that each year more than one million Americans lose their doctors to suicide. So nobody will know that physician suicide is a public health crisis. So nobody will know how many medical students we lose to suicide each year. 

Censorship just ensures that these suicides will continue. Next week our doctors will still be jumping from hospital rooftops, overdosing in call rooms, found hanging in hospital chapels. And these suicides will still be covered up by some of our hospitals, clinics, and medical schools—often with these handy little euphemisms.

  Euphemisms to cover up medical student and doctor suicides

  • Doctor passed away unexpectedly in his sleep.
  • Doctor found dead in hospital. Declared non-suspicious. 
  • His light went out too soon.
  • Medical student passed into eternity.
  • Doctor died by “accidental overdose.” 
  • Medical student died suddenly at home.
  • She passed away peacefully.
  • He went to be with the Lord.

Euphemisms are vague, indirect expressions substituted for facts to avoid something unpleasant or embarrassing. That’s not science. It’s deception. Word matter. 

Here’s a simple idea—Let’s just tell the truth. 

Pamela Wible, M.D., is author of Physician Suicide Letters—Answered. She was once a suicidal physician and now helps her colleagues find their way out of despair and hopelessness in medicine. Contact Dr. Wible here. Please reach out for help if you are suffering. You are loved.

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15 comments on ““Died suddenly at home” is not a diagnosis. How medical institutions cover up suicides.
  1. Mike says:

    I have a difficult relationship with the medical community, due to my mistreatment of my own mental health by psychiatrists, and the lack of support from doctors. This has almost led to my suicide many times before so I speak with mixed emotions. It’s hard for me to forgive! However this is a hugely moving video, and of course I have compassion for anyone struggling.

    I wonder if they can’t help their patients, because the stigma of mental illness is huge within the medical community? Which in turn leads some medical staff to struggle, as they can’t express their struggle. It feels like stigma causes a lot of people to hide. I read recently that 92% of people hide their mental health condition from their employer due to fear of some kind of reprisal.

    I have friends who are doctors who I like a lot. So obviously I have mixed emotions about the medical community.

    I also run a social media account and website for men’s mental health. So I fully support anyone who is struggling, and I want to help reduce the suicide rate to zero, with the help of others.

    I need to to increase my compassion even to the doctors and psychiatrists who abused me, or disowned me and left me to die! Hard work 🙁

    The whole system is in a mess. This video explains why I’ve received such awful support. It all comes down to stigma. If doctors have stigma against mental illness and struggle, then we are screwed!

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      We are all victims and thus, we are all allies. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we can all heal.

  2. Kim says:

    I had Ari as a student when he was 14. He was a wonderful, kind-hearted, and hard-working young man. I am heartbroken with his suicide. Thank you for all of your work and research in this area. As an educator, I believe that you have to change the system if it isn’t working; we don’t keep doing things in an unhealthy way just because others had to go through it.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Medical schools must look out for the welfare of their students. Medical students need emotional and academic support and some actually may need to move into other fields of study. There should be an exit ramp—other than suicide.

  3. Heidi Murdoch says:

    I could make the same video for on-call hospice nurses.

  4. anonymous says:

    There is (unfortunately) plenty of research into how student suicides act as a “contagion,” often prompting the suicides of other students. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center has a series of guidelines on how to effectively message around a student suicide to minimize this risk. The “official” language around Ari’s death adheres to these guidelines, but the school makes no attempt to informally cover up the nature of of the incident.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      I think it’s time to come out of the shadows and speak openly about suicide. Especially the suicide crisis among health care workers—medical students, doctors, veterinarians, etc . . . Euphemisms don’t solve medical conditions. Censorship, secrets, and lies have never cured any medical condition. It’s time to tell the truth. Why do we fear doing so? Why do you need to be anonymous?

  5. Sam says:

    While I respect your goal of helping suicidal medical students I think you are misusing this tragedy inappropriately without enough information. Yes, ari was a medical student and that probably kept him alive longer than he would have otherwise. He loved medical school, but was suicidal due to a terrible depression which even things and people he loved could not ameliorate.

  6. Anonymous says:

    While I respect your goal of helping suicidal medical students I think you are misusing this tragedy inappropriately without enough information. Yes, ari was a medical student and that probably kept him alive longer than he would have been otherwise. He loved medical school, but was suicidal due to a terrible depression which even things – like medicine–and people he loved could not ameliorate.

  7. Bart Andrews says:

    This is just so frustrating. I do believe that the administration, in some misguided notion of how reporting on suicide can create clusters, believes they are being helpful by how they report these deaths. THEY ARE NOT. There are evidence based practices on how academic institutions can and should respond following a suicide death. THIS IS NOT ONE OF THOSE PRACTICES. We need to say enough is enough. The suicide problem that is devastating the medical community and medical student population is impacting all of us. We must have open dialogue, follow evidence base practices and take our response to suicide out of the dark ages.

  8. N D says:

    I think it is a time finally government and hospitals to recognize that there a lot more doctors needed and to reduce physician burnout and unhappiness with the system built by your own American medical association for a greed of money.
    https://www.change.org/p/robert-m-wah-md-do-not-outsource-american-jobs-when-americans-qualify-for-them

  9. Peter J. Warshaw says:

    I saw my wife’s mental health suffer during her four years of medical school and then take a serious nose dive in two months of residency before taking her life. There was no support system for her, and no safe place for her to go to get the help she needed. As dehumanizing as parts of her med school experience were, her time as a resident contributed heavily to her deterioration and subsequent suicide. We must do something to correct a system that takes in smart young people who want to make a difference in the world and damages every aspect of their being under the pretense of training them.

  10. Erika says:

    This piece omits a lot of information and is disgustingly inaccurate. This is a real slap in the face to Ari’s friends and family, which includes his medical school community. You should not use his death as your soapbox.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      I’m friends with one of Ari’s relatives and obviously each case is unique. No medical student suicide should be covered up (especially by a medical institution). This is an occupational hazard in medicine that must be addressed openly and honestly as noted here: http://www.idealmedicalcare.org/blog/surgeon-generals-warning-medical-school-may-kill-your-child/ I lost both men I dated in med school to suicide and I will continue to report on these suicides until something substantive is done. There is no organization tracking these deaths. Kind of difficult to track something that’s actively being covered up.

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