Love letters prevent suicides

Could a few sentences on an index card save a life? Yes.

A once-suicidal teenager saved eight lives by attaching these love notes to a bridge.

Could a loving note save a suicidal veteran with PTSD? Yep.

Sending caring letters is one of the only interventions proven in randomized controlled trials to reduce suicide among military. (With no adverse effects)

Doctors are the people veterans, teenagers, and others turn to when suicidal; however, physicians have the highest suicide rate of any profession. If we help suicidal doctors, they’ll be in better shape to help the rest of us. Right?

So how can a patient save a doctor’s life?

Could sending a thank you note to your doctor prevent suicide? Yes, it sure can!

I’ve spent the last six years running a suicide helpline for doctors. Physicians have actually told me that patient thank you cards have prevented their suicides. Some keep a stash of patient thank you notes in their desks to read in times of despair.

Turns out old-fashioned letter writing can save not only veterans and doctors. Caring letters prevent suicides in the general population all across the world.

To help prevent suicides among our healers, one amazing medical student I know has launched a compassion project in which doctors-in-training are writing anonymous love letters to each other then leaving them in medical schools and hospitals. Here are a few of their letters:

I’ve studied more than 1100 doctor suicides. I’ve interviewed families, friends, colleagues. I’ve read autopsy reports on doctors, their last texts and suicide letters.

What if your letter really could prevent a physician suicide? Would you write one? (Please know that compassionate letters are therapeutic for both the writer and receiver)

This holiday please join our doctor love letter campaign

Patients: After you open your presents, consider writing a few quick thank you notes to the wonderful emergency doctors (nurses, EMTs, veterinarians) who couldn’t be home for the holidays. Then drop off your cards at the local hospital.  Some folks in my town are doing this as a Christmas church project!

Medical students & doctors: Write about your struggles with advice on how you made it through a challenging time in your training or practice. Share a few uplifting words of wisdom for someone who may be in trouble now. Don’t be fooled—even “happy” doctors die by suicide. Give letters of appreciation to specific people or leave anonymously in special locations.

Surviving families: If you’ve lost someone to suicide in medicine, please know that there are many more struggling in medicine with similar suicidal thoughts and feelings. I encourage you to write the kind of letter that you wish your loved one would have received from a secret admirer—someone who understood his/her struggles and could offer insight, hope, and love. The kind of letter that might have changed the course of his or her life and prevented that fatal decision.

Daily I’m in contact with medical students and doctors who are in pain and struggling. If you’d like me to distribute your letters to those who need your words most, please mail them to:

Pamela Wible, MD
Doctor Love Letters
P.O. Box 5225
Eugene, OR 97405 

Note: If you mail me letters to distribute, either seal and indicate on envelope that it is for a medical student of doctor. Or you can leave letters open and then I can read and sort them to people who need your specific words most.

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23 comments on “Love letters prevent suicides
  1. Caroline York says:

    Pamela,
    Well the letters on the bridge choked me up.
    What a sweet idea.
    Id love to write letters for doctors.
    Caroline

  2. Prof. W. E. Erickson says:

    This is invaluable information. In spite of my own gripping affliction over my physician son’s suicide, this simple yet powerful suggestion had never occurred to me to do for my own doctors who have indefatigably been readily available for my own personal medical care, particularly needed as a result of this tragedy. Thank you for your enlightment in how to make a difference.

  3. Bodhi says:

    I love this, and I love you!!! 💖💖💖

  4. Nancy says:

    <3 can’t wait for All the LOVE to spread

  5. Anne Vinsel says:

    Pamela, what great ideas! I just finished a thank you email to a physician friend who went off protocol to help me when I was uninsured but badly burned, and one to another physician friend to provided an off the cuff diagnostic guess that made my life much more comfortable and that my official physician had missed. I like the holiday idea too. I’ve been turning all my fruit and candy boxes and baskets from grateful clients over to the ER and ICU people for years, but never thought about writing cards and will definitely add that to my Christmas and New Years Eve goodie drops. Keep on it!

  6. Irvin Schonfeld says:

    Thanks Pamela. Thanks for your good work.

  7. Larry Steele says:

    Hello Pamela, Regarding your compassionate letters!

    Certainly agree with the Key word purpose in your notes below

    Believe I’ve saved a couple of lives myself by developing (with the people I helped) an actionable purpose (for living); or an alternate purpose to the one that is not currently working for them.

    Wrote you a year ago about my experience bailing out of medical school, and I also mentioned a doctors research fund we were developing (and why).

    Most people would not be contemplating suicide if they could find a viable purpose in life; and for men in particular (myself included) one that makes them feel useful.

    In my case (and others I’ve talked to) feeling useful did not include pushing pills, hand holding, and traversing a bureaucratic paper mill, while patients were neglected and misdiagnosed for the lack of time, burnout, good science, good leadership, and in many cases good sense.

    So I went back to R&D where I and many physicians belong, and where many of them could potentially find renewed purpose, even on a part time or advisory basis. This is the idea behind our Doctors Fund — an alliance for purposeful involvement.
    Larry Steele

  8. Dr. SP says:

    Dear Pamela,

    I really appreciated this email.
    I keep every note from my patients. It has definitely prevented my suicide. And now I having multiple chronic illnesses that see no end, and being out on disability, they help me keep fighting for my recovery and return to work as a healer.

    There are days I want to give up . . . But I see the letters, thank you cards, even art, knitting and jewelry from patients, and I keep going. I am reminded that my life is about more than my pain and suffering. I find mySelf when I am serving others and being their Light . . . Perhaps I have to reach out more for support and allow another to experience their relevance in the world by being my healer?

    As physicians, we think that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Our system judges us for it. Our colleagues do too. When I leave loving notes for others, I’m seen as soft and not taken seriously professionally. What a shameful and grave display of the ignorant system we are in. What if we saw asking for help as a sacred opportunity to allow another to shine their Light?

    Much gratitude and respect for all you do,
    with love and hugs,
    Dr. SP

    • Verónica Bryan RN says:

      Dear Dr SP., Please reach out to Dr Mark Hyman, a functional medicine physician who can guide you back to health.
      He leads the functional medicine movement, which is a more logical way of addressing chronic illness in my opinion. Medicine as it is tough is great for acute care, such as heart attacks and broken bones. Functional Medicine is better at finding the causes of a chronic problem and restoring the patient back to health.
      Wish you the best.

  9. Geoff Koerner says:

    Dear Doctor (or Doctor to be),
    The very fact that you have entered this field and gotten as far as you have indicates to me that you are bright, intelligent, tenacious, and desire to be caring toward people you don’t even know. You have precious gifts the world needs. I’m so sorry that the administrative/academic system have worn your soul down to the point of you wanting to give up. I don’t blame you one bit. You’re only human and your needs are as valid as any of your patients’. I believe that inside you remains the healer that you are. That healer needs healing, rest, or whatever your soul needs for however long it takes. Even if you never return to formal medicine and your path leads elsewhere, it’s irrelevant for it’s your beingness that is most precious and can never be replaced. Go in Peace.

  10. Message from an attorney says:

    Pamela,
    Thanks for the reminder. After hearing your interview on OPB radio, I resolved to do this, well before opening any presents.
    Many thoughts on this general topic now clutter my mind, but I won’t burden you with all of them right now, only a few.
    First, from decades of being a public radio `junkie’, and other sources, I’ve become aware that our health care system has major problems. Your revelation has significantly strengthened this view. Near the end of the last century, Andrew Weil, MD, predicted that it would implode.
    Second, all of us, as patients should take responsibility for our health. Any of us could probably do more to avoid damaging our bodies. Far too many expect health care professionals to provide some magic pill to cure any and all ailments, often after decades of neglect. Several decades ago, public television broadcast a series (five part I recall – still have the videotape, but haven’t viewed it in years) in which someone commented that we spend five, six, or seven decades abusing our bodies, then another decade attempting to undo the damage. On the other hand, companies spend billions annually urging us to do things which will be detrimental to our long term happiness and well being. Physicians should not be discouraged when they can’t overcome the adverse consequences of this situation.
    Have you seen recent reports that life expectancy in the USA has declined for several years? These did not surprise me, as I’ve heard it before, and in my practice doing trusts, wills, and settling estates saw a surprising number of cases in which elderly people had outlived some or all of their children, children who died of natural causes, even as younger senior citizens. A couple of decades ago, I had a delightful neighbor who, when she moved to Arizona to live with her son, had outlived four of her five children, all of whom died as adults of natural causes. Her early life was not easy, by modern standards – it was `BE’ – before everything, including electricity. She said that her mother lived to 85, father died as week short of 100 years. Both of them had endured an even less easy life.

  11. Corina says:

    Me and my daughters will write letters tomorrow!
    Love you and your work. You are an angel.

  12. Ace says:

    Especially as the holidays approach,I feel compelled to act and provide this support. I wish to reach out to ED,Pastoral Care,and my medical care team.

  13. IKeepTrying says:

    Dear Pamela,
    I spoke to you on the phone briefly a few years ago when going through a particularly tough time. I once again contemplated suicide this summer after dealing with numerous stresses and feeling inadequate in my work, in my marriage, in my family. Last week I lost a patient in the O.R. I received a “love” text from one of my residents who thanked me for all that I do. It prevented me from going over the edge. These little words of kindness and compassion help more than people can know.

    • IKeepTrying says:

      Hi Pamela,
      Here is the text that prevented my suicide:

      “Hey I’m so sorry about your patient. That sucks. I’m very thankful that we have you as an excellent otolaryngologist to learn from. You take care of so many sick patients and do a marvelous job educating us how to do it safely, skillfully, and compassionately well. Thank you for that.”

      It’s been a particularly hard year for me. But I’m surviving.
      Thanks for all you do Pamela.

  14. Mary Tarail says:

    Semi-retired now. I’ve saved every letter or note from patients or family members, and re-read them from time to time. It just feels good, and gives me hope that I really did the right thing for some. I can’t say that I’ve ever been suicidal, because I haven’t. But my physician father was, and ended his own life in retirement. So I get it. Thanks for championing your cause, it means a lot to me. Personal touches do make a difference. I will write to physicians who have helped me this year. I’d be happy to write to others, and send to you, Pamela, as directed.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Thanks Mary. Not sure I mentioned we have a support group for families who have lost physicians or medical students to suicide. Happy to get you in if you like. (I may have already invited you).

  15. John Skirgaudas says:

    Having practiced medicine for 45 years, I was always lifted up when patients thanked me. More satisfying than the money I earned.
    Thanks you notes and letters really help.

  16. Jody M Lien says:

    Hello, Dr. Wible!
    I just stumbled across you and your information on Twitter by accident. I am a chronic pain patient that has been affected by the opioid crisis & now hysteria & my Dr has had me on a forced taper over the past couple of years because he felt that he had no choice. I also have a son who overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl and suffered an anoxic /hypoxic brain injury on 9/1/14 at the age of 22. After spending almost a year in various hospitals with me sleeping in a recliner next to his bed (because I’m a very overprotective, barracuda of a Mom) to make sure that he was receiving the best care possible (and very likely making life Hell for every single one of the staff-I’m positive they threw a party when we finally left!) he finally was able to come home with 24/7 nursing care where he still is today. When he first got home he had a tracheostomy, feeding tube, catheter, & we monitored him with a pulse oximeter round the clock. He has come a very long way, he got his trache out a little over a year ago, now only has his feeding tube, & is able to say a few words. Hearing him say ‘Mom’ again was the most beautiful sound in the world after him being silent for over 2 years!
    After reading your stories about physician suicides, I decided that I am going to write letters to both mine & my son’s Drs. He wouldn’t be here without them, and I’m sure with so many of these Drs being too scared to continue prescribing during this opioid crisis, many are going to feel like they have failed their patients (through no fault of their own!). Thank you for opening my eyes to this horrible problem, & giving me such a simple way to hopefully be able to help fix it.
    Jody M. Lien

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Jody you are such a sweetheart given all the tragedy you’ve witnessed. Sending love to you and your son from Oregon.

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