I just lost my son to suicide. What can I do?

James Evan Astin, MD

Dear Dr. Wible,

I lost my beautiful son Evan to suicide four weeks ago. He was a second year internal medicine resident—a very smart, loving and funny man! He left a lengthy letter and in it he stated, “I do not want any attention drawn to this.” I have been crying all day reading your book and blog and I’ve seen the trailer of the film you all are making. I admire your work and if I can help one student, resident or doctor to seek help it will be worth ignoring his wishes.

You see Evan was always a really bright child. He was very caring and compassionate. I never saw any signs of depression. He did well in college, excelled on his MCAT and excitedly headed off to medical school. I am a nurse and I tried to get him to choose another career! I told him how overworked and exhausted the doctors were. That they had to deal with patients, insurance, call, weekends, etc. He chose that path anyway and, of course, I was very proud.

In his letter he wrote, “I guess we all know that I chose the wrong field. I actually think it would’ve been a good fit for me a few decades ago, but I don’t like what it is currently. Like every damn field in the world right now it appears that profit is the driving motive and things will continue to get worse as more profit is extracted. It is also not the career my mind was built for. I’m better at deep knowledge of a narrow spectrum, not of the broad and somewhat shallow. This discontent was something I was never able to reconcile fully. I would work long hours and in my spare time I would fret about my situation. I felt I was too far behind to get where I needed to be. Now I’m left with a job I can barely stand and a mountain of debt (which FYI should be absolved upon my death).”

Our family, of course, is heartbroken, lonely, miserable and questioning what we could have done differently. He went on to mention that he first thought of suicide in med school and has thought about it almost weekly since that time. What hurts me the most is that I had NO idea that he was that miserable!!! Everyone says med school and residency is tough and we thought this was normal. Like I said at the first, he was very funny and made fun of himself. He did tell me a while back that he didn’t like it. He said, “I just wanted to be a scientist that helped people and that is not at all what I do.”

So my beautiful, loving son got in his truck, drove home to Texas and took his own life! In this tiny town there were over 500 people at his memorial service! If he would have just reached out to anyone! Is there anything I can do to help? I have no idea how to fix our medical system, but this epidemic must be studied and stopped!

Evan’s loving mother,

Sheila Stevens

___

Sheila,

Oh, I am so sorry to hear about the suicide of your beautiful son, Evan. Such a terrible loss for us all! Please know that I am here for you 24/7 if you ever need me. Talking about  your feelings and connecting with others is therapeutic for many who have been through suicide. I will connect you with a support group that I created for parents who have lost their children to suicide during medical training. Writing is healing too. I’d be honored to celebrate your son’s life on my blog so that we can help other medical students and doctors know that there’s no shame in asking for help. You can even honor Evan on a tribute page in the forthcoming documentary film, Do No Harm (now ranked #1 of all 500 films on Kickstarter!). I’ll call you in a moment. Thanks so much for your courage in reaching out and being willing (amid your grief) to help others.

~ Pamela

Click here to help us stop these suicides.

View DO NO HARM movie trailer & pledge your support.

RIP James Evan Astin, MD

Pamela Wible, M.D., is the author of Physician Suicide Letters—Answered. View her TEDMED talk Why doctors kill themselves.

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20 comments on “I just lost my son to suicide. What can I do?
  1. Sheila — How loving you are to share loss of your accomplished son and to express desire to help others. With this piece of writing, alone, I believe you have accomplished this.
    Your grieving, I will not forget and I will echo Pamela’s invitation to connect anytime should you wish to, simply, have a conversation. As a general rule, EST, I am able to be reached 8:30a-8:30p. You are with me in my thoughts.
    –Virginia 802.999.6301

  2. Robert Park says:

    Thank you SO MUCH, Pamela! On behalf of many…many unspoken voices…THANK YOU SO MUCH! for bringing this to public attention and searching for answers.

    Why does it seem that only the sweetest, most gentle souls take their lives?

    May God bless your endeavors with His abundant love!

    Robert Park, M.D.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Because the sweet sensitive ones feel the pain of the broken system more and are unable to develop the callouses to bear the brutality, lies, and deception.

      • Mike Anderson says:

        Hi, Dr. Wible–just wrote you a long letter. Please let Sheila know that I would love to reach out to her if I can help at all, at least to let them know they’re not alone in their confusion, grief and anger. I have been through something very similar as a resident at the same institution.

        Thank you for all you do and thanks to all the grieving parents, friends, and siblings who show a courage so much greater than our profession usually does by speaking out.

        Love all around,
        S.M.A., MD

  3. Susan T. Haney, MD says:

    Sheila, my heart goes out to you and your family. Shame on the wealthy executives and other profiteers who have turned our helping healing profession into a soul-starving assembly-line sweatshop — at the expense of patients, doctors, nurses, NP’s, PA’s, pharmacists, lab and radiology technicians, and all of the other people actually involved in the core interactions and services of medical CARE. Your son did not deserve to become (and could not have foreseen becoming) another tragic victim of the medical “industry”; he deserved to become a learned and contributing member of the medical PROFESSION. We will all suffer from his loss, but none more than those who also loved him. You ask, “What can I do?”. You are already doing it. Tell his story. Use it to make a difference. Let HIM continue to make a difference.

  4. Jan Hull says:

    So very sorry to hear about your son’s pain and your loss. We fear daily for the many med students we know, who are taught to hide their pain. All our love and prayers. And bless you for sharing the truth.

  5. I hear the sadness in his voice. I hear what other doctors have told him throughout his training – “our speciality is one of breadth and not depth.” How many times have I heard that?!! He took it to heart. Our speciality as Internists, Family Doctors, ANY Doctor is loving our patients. We go the depths of forever to learn about our patient’s illnesses and help them heal. Oh, how I only wish someone would have told him that. Knowledge is the first part, love is everything else. So so sad.

  6. Kym Porter says:

    Please do not blame yourself. People who are considering suicide are masters at hiding it. I should know as I do it as well. How can you help? Hmmm- I would suggest to first take care of yourself- the answers will come later.

  7. Joyce says:

    Dr. Wible, thank you so much for your your time and devotion to this important cause. You have helped so many physicians and families in need. My heart goes out to Sheila and family. I really thank Sheila for sharing her son’s story to help other physicians in training. So sorry for her loss.

  8. Cheryl Collier says:

    Sheila I am so sorry for your loss. I too lost my son a 3rd year medical student on Mother’s Day 2016. I believe that all of those in the medical field are some of the most intelligent, sweet, kind and compassionate people. The type that everyone would want as a doctor. The system is so broken it just eats our son’s and daughter’s up. It makes them depressed along with having nothing but hopelessness. They feel they have no way out but to end their lives. I too never saw any signs of depression in my son Sean. I was totally blindsided by his ending his life. It was after he died that I learned this was medical schools dirty little secret. I had no idea our medical field was so broken. I too was proud of my son choice to become a doctor. Now I wish he had never even thought about a career in medicine. Now when someone tells me their child is thinking about becoming a doctor I tell them please convince them to pick another career. Too many parents have already lost son’s & daughter’s to suicide by trying to go in to medicine and help others. My hope that the movie #Do no harm will bring to light the problems in the medical field but also the cover up to keep this a secret that few know until they pay the ultimate price death of a child. I’m so sorry that you too have joined a club no one should ever have to join. Death of a child club the club no one ever thought they would join.

  9. Michele Dietl says:

    I am so so sorry to hear this about Evan. He sounds like a wonderful, bright, caring, amazing young man – so similar to my beautiful son Kevin who took his life in 2015 just days before he would have graduated medical school.
    Looking back, it’s evident that Kevin suffered from depression and anxiety during most of his medical school training but he told us that most everyone in med school was stressed out. He said it was par for the course when your life consisted of nothing but studying, social isolation and constant worry about the next test, board exam, residency match, etc. etc.
    Like Evan, he became very disillusioned with his chosen profession, distraught at the choice he had made, and distressed over the debt he had incurred. Reaching out for help was not a viable option due to the stigma and negative impact to a career which had not even begun yet. He eventually slipped into a psychotic depression and ended his life.
    Please support our documentary film, Do No Harm, which we hope will be shown in all medical schools in the nation. Med students will be able to see that they are not alone, that they are not broken and that reaching out for help is not a weakness.
    My beautiful son Kevin would have turned 29 this June 20th.

  10. martina Nicholson says:

    Dear Sheila,
    My heart goes out to you. All through my career as a doc I tried to help point doctors toward healing ourselves, doing better self-care, finding better balance. I am glad that none of my closest friends in medical school or training died, but I knew many who were crippled by the demands, and several who quit medicine. Being on the committee for well-being was not much help, because most doctors would NOT self-refer for depression or suicidal thinking. Your story is so important, and we need to do more to help people stop competing instead of cooperating, and continue feeling isolated and alone. We need to help people work in teams, and with a better understanding of the issues which lead up to suicide. And I am so sorry about all the ruthless business decisions which have changed medicine away from what your son was aspiring to do. Thank you for speaking out. May you find comfort and blessing in your gift to us.

  11. Linda says:

    To Steven, Sheila, and Dr. Wible,

    You are heroes. Why? Because of the lives each of you has, and are, CHANGING FOR THE BETTER!

    In Deepest Sympathy,
    A mom,a patient,a lay person who cares. The Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ Be With You.

  12. Becca and Tommy says:

    This just took my breath away and beautifully expressed. So loved Ev. please know that Tommy would love to offer his 1st hand knowledge from losing Tommy Joe in’91.He was 23. Love
    and continued prayers foreach of you

  13. Maria Geesey says:

    I am very sorry for everyone’s loss. I lost my beautiful son, Kyle, on Christmas Eve, 2016. He was a freshman in college. He was considering a career in nursing. He took his life. While I respect this thread and everyone’s feelings, perspective, and grief, I can only think that it is a disservice to bring attention to young adult suicide focused solely on medical school rigors and the healthcare system. The problem is not specific to vocation or field of study. It is a mental health issue, period. I have read that suicide is the second leading cause of death in college-age students or young adults. Tackling this problem as a medical school issue is adding to the stigma that exists surrounding mental health problems. So, because of the rigors and demands of medical school, the state of our healthcare system which is run like any other “business” now, another topic altogether (!), which has disillusioned its practitioners, one becomes suicidal and feels stigmatized at the idea of seeking treatment? Life, in general, is rigorous and competitive…no matter what field you choose. All fields and industries are affected or driven by financial outcomes. That doesn’t make this acceptable, but it is a reality in many other fields outside of healthcare. I am asking that this group concentrate on the issue of depression and anxiety and mental
    Illness, which is the leading cause of suicide, and its overall pervasive stigma in society, rather than defending and tackling this solely as a medical school issue, brought on by debt, disallusionment, and demands. By the way, I am a nurse so am well-aware of the economics of healthcare.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Maria ~ I absolutely agree that we must address all suicides and destigmatize mental health care all around (for all populations). There are unique characteristics in medical education and practice (rampant human rights violations) that do not exist elsewhere at this level that have been outlined in this blog, TED talk, and book (Physician Suicide Letters—Answered). My personal goal is to help prevent the stigma in medical training so we can stop losing so many of our medical students and doctors so we can better care for the mental health of all (including ourselves). I am so sorry to hear about your son Kyle. The suicide crisis among young people (high school, college) is certainly on my mind and close to my heart. I do feel we would be so much more effective at helping everyone if we were not wounded in our training.

  14. Kristina Dahl, MD says:

    Dr Wible,
    Do you have an email address that is private?

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