Why “happy” doctors die by suicide

He was the go-to sports guy in Washington, DC. A masterful surgeon with countless academic publications, he trained orthopaedic surgeons across the world and was the top physician for professional sports teams and Olympians.

Dr. Benjamin Shaffer had it all.

Yet Ben was more than a stellar surgeon. He was a kind, sweet, brilliant, and sensitive soul who could relate to anyone—from inner city children to Supreme Court justices. He was gorgeous and magnetic with a sense of humor and a zest for life that was contagious. Most of all, he loved helping people. Patients came to him in pain and left his office laughing. They called him “Dr. Smiles.”

Ben was at the top of his game when he ended his life. So why did he die?

Underneath his irresistible smile, Ben hid a lifetime of anxiety amid his professional achievements. He had recently been weaned off anxiolytics and was suffering from rebound anxiety and insomnia—sleeping just a few hours per night and trying to operate and treat patients each day. Then his psychiatrist retired and passed him on to a new one.

Eight days before he died, his psychiatrist prescribed two new drugs that worsened his insomnia, increased his anxiety, and led to paranoia. He was told he would need medication for the rest of his life. Devastated, Ben feared he would never have a normal life. He told his sister it was “game over.”

Ben admitted he was suicidal with a plan though he told his psychiatrist he wouldn’t act on it. Ben knew he should check himself into a hospital, but was panicked. He was terrified he would lose his patients, his practice, his marriage, and that everyone in DC—team owners, players, patients, colleagues—would find out about his mental illness and he would be shunned.

The night before he died, Ben requested the remainder of the week off to rest. His colleagues were supportive, yet he was ashamed. He slept that night, but awoke wiped out on May 20, 2015. After driving his son to school, he came home and hanged himself on a bookcase. He left no note. He left behind his wife and two children.

I feel a kinship with Ben, partly because I used to suffer from chronic anxiety that I hid under academic achievements, but mostly because I’m a cheerful doctor who was once a suicidal physician too. In 2004 I thought I was the only suicidal physician in the world—until 2012 when I found myself at the memorial for our third doctor suicide in my small town. Despite his very public death, nobody uttered the word suicide aloud. Yet everyone kept whispering “Why?” I wanted to know why. So I started counting doctor suicides. Within a few minutes I counted 10. Five years later I had a list of 547. By January this year, I had 757 cases on my registry. As of today that number is 1,013. (Keynote delivered at Chicago Orthopaedic Symposium reviews data and simple solutions to prevent doctor suicides).

High doctor suicide rates have been reported since 1858 (1). Yet 160 years later the root causes of these suicides remain unaddressed. Physician suicide is a global public health crisis. More than one million Americans lose their doctors each year to suicide—just in the US (2). Many doctors have lost several colleagues to suicide. One doctor told me he lost eight physicians during his career with no chance to grieve.

Of these 1,013 suicides, 888 are physicians and 125 are medical students. The majority (867) are in the USA and 146 are international. Surgeons have the greatest number of suicides on my registry, then anesthesiologists. (3)

However when accounting for numbers of active physicians per specialty, anesthesiologists are more than twice as likely to die by suicide than any other physician. Surgeons are number two, then emergency medicine physicians, obstetrician/gynecologists, and psychiatrists. (4)

For every woman who dies by suicide on my registry, we lose four men. Suicide methods vary by specialty, region, and gender. Women prefer overdose. In the USA, men use firearms. Jumping is popular in New York City. In India, doctors are found hanging from ceiling fans. Male anesthesiologists are at highest risk among all physicians. Most anesthesiologists overdose. Many are found dead inside hospital call rooms.

Doctor suicides on the registry were submitted to me during a six-year period (2012-2018) by families, friends, and colleagues who knew the deceased. After speaking to thousands of suicidal physicians since 2012 on my informal doctor suicide hotline and analyzing registry data, I discovered surprising themes—many unique to physicians.

Public perception maintains that doctors are successful, intelligent, wealthy, and immune from the problems of the masses. To patients, it is inconceivable that doctors would have the highest suicide rate of any profession (5).

Even more baffling, “happy” doctors are dying by suicide. Many doctors who kill themselves appear to be the most optimistic, upbeat, and confident people. Just back from Disneyland, just bought tickets for a family cruise, just gave a thumbs up to the team after a successful surgery—and hours later they shoot themselves in the head.

Doctors are masters of disguise and compartmentalization.

Turns out some of the happiest people—especially those who spend their days making other people happy—may be masking their own despair. Reading this excerpt from the 1858 Manual of Psychological Medicine, I’m reminded of so many brilliant doctors I’ve lost to suicide: (1)

“Carlini, a French actor of reputation, consulted a physician to whom he was unknown, on account of the attacks of profound melancholy to which he was subject. The doctor, among other things, recommended the diversion of the Italian comedy; ‘for,’ said he, ‘your distemper must be rooted indeed, if the acting of the lively Carlini does not remove it.’ ‘Alas!’ ejaculated the miserable patient, ‘I am the very Carlini whom you recommend me to see; and, while I am capable of filling Paris with mirth and laughter, I am myself the dejected victim of melancholy and chagrin.’”

Many of our most inspiring and visionary leaders—artists, actors, even doctors—suffer from mental illness.

Yet students enter medical school with their mental health on par with or better than their peers. Suicide is an occupational hazard in medicine. Doctors develop on-the-job PTSD—especially in emergency medicine. Patient deaths—even with no medical error—may lead to self-loathing. Suicide is the ultimate self-punishment. Humans make mistakes. When doctors make mistakes, they are publicly shamed in court, on television, and in newspapers (that live online forever). As doctors we suffer the agony of harming someone else—unintentionally—for the rest of our lives

Blaming doctors increases suicides. Words like “burnout” and “resilience” are employed by medical institutions to blame and shame doctors while deflecting their own accountability for inhumane working conditions in failing health systems. When doctors are punished for occupationally induced mental health wounds, they become even more desperate.

If physicians do seek help, they risk being disciplined. Doctors rightfully fear lack of confidentiality when receiving mental health care as private conversations with therapists could be turned over to medical boards and illegally accessed by their supervisors via electronic medical records at their institutions. So physicians drive out of town, pay cash, and use fake names in paper charts to hide from state boards, hospitals, and insurance plans that interrogate doctors about their mental health and may prevent or delay state licensure, hospital privileges, and health plan participation.

With a great work ethic until their last breath, doctors are often checking in on patients, reviewing test results, and dictating charts minutes before orchestrating their own suicides. Many leave apologetic heartfelt letters detailing the reasons for their suicide for friends, family, and staff. One orthopaedic surgeon simply wrote: “I’m sorry I couldn’t fix everyone.”

Doctors choose suicide to end their pain (not because they want to die). Suicide is preventable if we stop the secrecy, stigma, and punishment. In absence of support, doctors make impulsive decisions to end their pain permanently. I asked several male physicians who survived their suicides, “How long after you decided to kill yourself did you take action—overdose on pills or pull the trigger?” The answer: 3 to 5 minutes.

Ignoring doctor suicides leads to more doctor suicides. Let’s not wait until the last few minutes of a doctor’s life when heroic interventions are required. Most physician suicides are multifactorial involving a cascade of events that unfold months to years prior. So reach out to “happy” doctors today—especially male anesthesiologists and surgeons who are least likely to cry or ask for help.

1. Bucknill, J.C. and Tuke, D.H. 1858. A Manual of Psychological Medicine.
2. Wible, P., 2014. “When doctors commit suicide, it’s often hushed up.” Washington Post.
3. Wible, P. Keynote, 19th Annual Chicago Orthopaedic Symposium, 8/18/18
4. AAMC Physician Specialty Data Report. 2016.
5. American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2018. Abstract 1-227, presented May 5, 2018.

Meet us in NYC September 12 & 13, 2018 for a sneak screening of the Do No Harm film in which Ben Shaffer and nearly 100 physicians who died by suicide will be honored. View trailer here & grab your ticket.

 

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49 comments on “Why “happy” doctors die by suicide
  1. Tim Witzigreuter says:

    Pamela Great article. We lost a cardiologist a little over a month ago. Still hasn’t been shared as an accident or self inflicted. This particular physician and I shared idle conversation 2 days before it happened. Physicians I think have the ability to hide pain, grief, shame etc. As a paramedic in the past I had to tell people “there’s nothing we can do”, but on rare occasions and it was devastating to me, especially when it was a child lost. I cant imagine having to do it daily or weekly. The oncologist that diagnosed my Mom is a great friend and like a brother to me. He shared with me how hard it is for him on a daily basis to inform people that they only have a short time to live. People need to realize that physicians are regular people too and have the same feelings, hurt, guilt, etc that all experience. As you alluded to today’s media TV commercials about malpractice suits just makes it harder on our physicians to stay mentally healthy. I know the work you’ve done and sharing this with all has saved lives. As Patch said to me few years ago when we were all in Baltimore, continue chasing your dreams.
    Tim

  2. Dolores O'Neill PA-C says:

    It’s not only stigma it’s poor diets due to being rushed and pressured constantly. Lack of sleep surely must top the list as well. Other doctors don’t take these things seriously unless they themselves suffer. I work in psychiatry and before antidepressants, anxiolytics or antipsychotics I address the sleep issues. It is often the root cause of the other problems. I talk about proper diet and sleep issues til people want me to shut up but give an exhausted person a good night’s sleep and watch the magic happen. There is too much fucking ego and too little common sense in our profession. Thank GOD for those like you who are working so hard to make things better!

    • Trish says:

      Wow. I never thought about my lack of sleep especially good uninterrupted sleep, could be the reason for my worsening depression.

    • Timbres says:

      You are wrong it is not about ego and I think you should apologize. Until you have been a surgeon and the family of a surgeon you have no idea the unrealistic expectations that are poured upon your day after day. You have all the answers yet you do not have the level of responsibility that these people and their families have. And they are truly almost always some of the most humble kind and servant hearted people you were ever meet. There are many times that they never get paid for their work by the patient’s the insurance companies and even the hospitals where they serve on call oftentimes free of charge with no pay. Shame on you for saying its ego. I’m not sure why you’re involved in your field of medicine but that kind of attitude won’t help anyone

      • Phyllis J. Noss, MD says:

        Thank you for your comment. I agree. When I applied for medical school in 1974, physicians were respected but the media has promoted physician bashing for years. I miss the comradery of medical school. I have few friends. I feel alienated. Physicians oft times cannot support one another because they can barely support themselves emotionally. Surgeons get little sleep and even less respect. It’s not just the financial reimbursement of medical care which has crashed. It’s a sense of respect that has crashed as well.

    • John C says:

      my wife played every sport in H.S., was a rock climber, now she hasnt worked out regularly since 2006. It has effected her mood, health.. just not enough time. I got her a great treadmill, used but professional grade so it wont move. And am building her a desk so she can walk while charting 3 hours nightly from 830-1130 pm

  3. EM Doctor says:

    Wow! I was blown away reading why “Happy” doctors die by suicide. You have been the one and only person/resource that I can connect with. For the record, I am not suicidal, but I have looked at the ceiling fan a lot. Subconsciously?? That is bizzare. I have always been a bright and shiny “Happy” guy. As an ER tech back in the day, staff and patients used to tell me “Don’t change”. Well, sadly, I have. I look less and less forward to going to work. My friends think I have it made because I am a doctor, a beautiful family and “Stuff”. Currently, me and my wife are struggling terribly. Medicine has changed me. Yep, I smile. Yep, I’m charming. Yep, I can light up a room. But I am in pain. I am overworked, underpaid and micromanaged. I don’t have my own practice where I can work at a safe place. I have isolated myself from friends and family. Some justifiably so. I have been seeing a psychiatrist since medical school began up until now. I have major anxiety and insomnia. I spent 4 years in the US Army Infantry and used to be able to sleep on top of a tank in an instant. It was medicine that damaged me. Surprising. I thought Fort Benning, Georgia would have evoked what now ailes me. Currently, I am on multiple meds…..benzos and wine make life better right? I have had relations with my wife once in the past year. We have tried marriage counseling twice, but she did not like addressing her issues. I am transparent with psychiatrists and mentors. I have had people in my life that have recently committed suicide. All non-physicians. I always have thought how stupid. Just break up the marriage, get a license in California, buy a 40 foot custom retro Airstream and find a lot on the beach. But I have a beautiful 13 year-old daughter. And I want to see her through high school. I am afraid of failing my boards next month. I am up for partnership the following month..and that would leave a stain on my review. Pamela, not one person really understands the pain I feel. I have felt this way for years now that I had to exit the hot bed of an ER and work now in an immediate care. On a positive note, my stress has lessened. I finally had my first physical in 21 years. I work out as often as I can…that seems to be a strong suggestion from my therapist. It’s funny….he asks me every monthly visit if I’m working out..?? I’ll ask him next week. I do not know why I have never asked before. Back to boards. If I blow them and admin gets wind, well time to start a 3 month process for a job that does not require you to be ER boarded. I seek refuge by mentoring. Despite the above, I interview perspective medical students. I think I have a gift to sense if they will be able to handle the road ahead. I mentor students. I am connected with local colleges, speak and do mock interviews. That is my passion. To come full circle. The ceiling fan. I have stated it down many of nights, in my man cave since I snore and sleep separate from my wife. Once I had a vision of twine. I have “Friended” a personal trainer from my gym an left my phone unlocked. I’ll take the blame for that one. My wife is less than thrilled about our correspondence. I could say “Well you have not been affectionate for over a year”, but that may qualify as an excuse and not justication. Per your article, I started medical school less than par. I suffered bullying. Spiritual abuse. How much time do you have? Pamela. Thank you for being that voice that justifies my pain. I look forward to working with you. I hope my correspondence is not a burden. Bye for now.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      No burden. Enjoyed our 57-minute conversation. Hope to meet up with you soon. Maybe a 3-day retreat in Oregon?

  4. KW says:

    Deepest sympathy to his Family for him being one of the finest Drs. And caring about his Patients and the Hospital are as Bad cause they just want money

  5. Anne Cavanagh says:

    I read your sad but all too familiar case report. One of the themes I hear again and again ad nausea is that doctors either avoid care entirely or sneak to other cities (sometimes hundreds of miles, odd hours, back doors, of course cash). I can be very honest about limitations related to surgery but could never say I had a “mental illness” that required hospitalization and recovery.

    Maybe we could help ourselves AND our patients with a major campaign to at least reduce the stigma/stereotypes/ignorance around mental illness, substance use disorders and intellectual disability. What are patients and the general public supposed to think if doctors are not able to get treatment??

  6. Wren Cage says:

    Although it doesn’t say which anxiolytic he was recently weaned off of, I’m pretty sure this poor man was suffering from acute benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome.

  7. Pamela Wible MD says:

    Doctor just emailed me: “Please stop sending all these depressing stuff.”

    FYI: There is no way to solving the tragedies in the world without discussing them.

    • Barbara says:

      It’s impossible for people like you (and me) to look the other way without doing something – anything – to try to help.

      Cognitive dissonance runs rampant.

      Thank you for your work. ❤️

  8. Michele Scott says:

    Great article. How true it is that doctors don’t want to die. They just don’t want to be in pain anymore. I wasn’t surprised by anything in the article except the time lapse between decision to suicide to actual attempt. Less than 5 minutes?!? Sometimes our ability to assess and act on problems can be very hazardous to our our health. DrWible thank you for this article and for your tireless efforts to diminish stigma and shame regarding physician mental illness.

  9. Concerned says:

    Maybe we should teach people to take more time than 5 minutes on such a permanent decision. Might save a lot of lives.

  10. Keith Mauney says:

    So: What do we say to the Dead?

    Better we say and act it while alive.

    Do you know your Colleagues’ eye color? Their favorite escape? Red wine or White? Opera or Rap? Their best joke? Their most embarrassing moment?

    Ask. Walk straight up and ask.

    And take time– One time– to attend the funeral of a patient you met. Walk up to the front, sit in the back, and attend the graveside, not just the Service. Then when you walk back to the car, before you crank the engine, reflect on exactly WHO you are in this world, not what you do…. Might not be a bad idea to consider also just Whose you are, too.

    Set your touchstone, retreat to it regularly; You can abde in it in the middle of a resuscitation if you wish–you’re completely capable of being in both places at once.

    ____________________

    (From LinkedIn)

    Thank you…

    We commit suicide because we have to. Not as a result of being out of choices.

    Black has a darker shade here than anyone else can imagine. And it’s not that far away, as if some remote shore, planet or time.

    On my own journey, I’ve come to appreciate the absolute need within us to connect with others, even when we’re alone inside. Whoever you are, wherever you might be, under whatsoever circumstance you might endure: Stand up; rise. The Sleeping Giant lies within. You need but wake him. Or her.

    The World is waiting. Every moment

  11. Brooke Alexander,D.O. says:

    Pamela you’re a True Pioneer and only Advocate for Physician Suicide Prevention and leading the National Discussion! The AAP just announced in late May at their annual meeting that now out of all US jobs/professions – it’s not farmers/migrant workers who commit suicide at the highest rate ( that was the actual rate from Great Britain 🇬🇧) but it’s Sad 😢 to say it’s All Physician’s !! In fact The current rate is 2X higher than veterans returning with PTSD !
    In fact in 2016 I was interviewed by a reporter on News Channel 6 San Diego. Ca due to the fact that I was speaking out Against the Entire Veterans Administration for their Utter and Complete lack of Competence in Care for their Vetetans with PTSD and/or PTSD ! Why ? Currently the FDA has 1 approved drug for PTSD / it’s not good it has many side effects – significantly causes weight gain ; metabolic syndrome ; sexual side effects including prolonged erection – it’s an SSRI originally only Approved for Depression/Anxiety- Sertraline ( Zoloft) ! The VA refuses still to due 2 decade old technology- Pharmacogenomic testing- geisenger health systems in PA was just in Forbes for being the 1st HealthCare to lead the model for this and other Genetic/based Medical prevention models !
    The CMO just asked to connect with me on LinkedIn and so did the CEO , Nick Arroyo – of Vantari Genetics now known as UniversalDx…
    why is this most important?
    Because PGtx testing tells us that 40% of all persons who are given Zoloft for PTSD it Will Not Work !
    But the Big Pharma still go around with Criminal negligence & tell Doctors this technology is New & Flawed … lol 😝
    The model currently in US HealthCare is to treat Based on the Chronic Disease Model – that is why between 2004-2014 80+% !!
    The Hospital administration profits have gone thru the roof / why would they buy the Doctors practice?
    They were allowed to bill at 50% because Obama’s order allowed them to bill as @Hospital loopholes… wherein Doctor(s) owned practice’s were paid at 50% less …
    well they CMS got wind 💨 of this and stopped it and realized they will now save > 790$ million dollars 💵 per fiscal year!!
    So Hospitals stopped acquiring these in 2014-2015 !
    Why is this pertinent to Physicians Suicide? That is the main cause !
    Do we really think that > 80% of all US physicians said “ please just take my hard-earned practice ; to work for you as a jack-n-the-box doc punch 🤛-n-out for half the pay 💰 and < half. The time off ! The alternative was not good / go bankrupt or Lose your license at the State Medical board due to the label of “ Disruptive physician “ !! So the 4th choice is to “ commit suicide “ or go to jail !
    Lastly there is no Opiod crisis it’s a hoax – Doctors are the Scapegoat- and it’s killing them by Suicide at as many as 35-140 a day !
    So the California State board member let it slip that they were intentions were to take away the Opioids all – not just restrict and the 2nd was to take away all Benzodiazepines- I was appointed along with her to the 1st ever Los Angeles, Ca Opioid Drug Task Force ! We asked her what will you be treating the public with ?
    She literally said “ they can just meditate , exercise and do Yoga 🧘‍♀️ “
    The CMO/CEO and I walked out together as the meeting ended it was in 2016 June before this Hoax Of weaning Both meds started – and I said to him / I don’t know 🤷‍♀️ if you have particular interest in yoga & meditation 🧘‍♀️- I do ; I in the past have studied with yogi gurus internationally and can do my own transcendental meditation for pain relief . But the patients I see and refer to pain management or psychiatric or treat – those Spinal cord injured patient due to Assault from Gunshot wound ; multiple sclerosis; myasthenia gravies; Advanced Parkinson’s ; etc etc – if they could “ Do the Downward Dog 🐶 they would “ he told me the problem is when certain people try to reach their way up the ladder of success if you will – they lose sight of everything they are there to go in the beginning- and for us and the only one- is the Patient- to prevent disease or to bring their body to wellness or at least try …
    this is the Trillion dollar 💵 Pharmaceuticals industry and the 23.5 Billion dollar 💵 Criminal gang Illegal Opioid Drug in all states and county in the USA 🇺🇸!!!
    This Belovec Physician; Mentor ; husband; father Would still be Alive today – if it wasn’t for Men’s Corruption & Greed ! “ he was weaned off his Benzodiazepines/ Ativan and Xanax – to sleep 💤 he’d been on them for years !
    Why ? There is no reason ! 1st to no harm! I’ve also been contacted last month by Harvard university physician they have gathered MD/JD/PhD for all of the above to fight this Debacle and Severe Attack on all US physicians- if it’s not too late …

    • Barbara says:

      THANK YOU. Every one of your points is so important.
      PGtx (20 years too late) explained the very serious damage/disability caused by SSRIs.
      Opioid *crisis* is exactly as you stated. The gvmt will never admit they can’t control the tsunami of illicit drugs conflated with legit RXs FOR THAT PATIENT. Husband is MD (in CA) and knows this, but refuses to discuss it for fear of his job.

      Most importantly, the severe dangers of withdrawal-induced suicide with benzos,SS/NRIs, gabapentin, Lyrica,etc.

      International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine 29 (2018) 175–180
      DOI 10.3233/JRS-180018
      IOS Press 175
      SSRI and SNRI withdrawal symptoms reported on an internet forum

      It’s finally being recognized, but WHY do patients have to go to the internet to find this information??? It’s obviously impacting physicians also,but most continue to disbelieve the patients, perpetuating further divisiveness and suicides among all.

      There MUST be a way to work together, outside of the current business medical model.

      (X-psychopharm involved in one of the biggest fraud whistleblpwer cases in hx,CYP & SERT variants, etc.)

  12. cj says:

    Re the physician who emailed you requesting you stop sending “all this depressing stuff”: I must wholeheartedly disagree with them. Continue to send it. Send it far and wide, and don’t stop. This is for all those who have, and all those who might. It’s for those many many students and doctors bearing emotional pain, and for those who love them. Every day that you continue this work,Dr. Wible, you are telling them they matter. And you are telling the world. I count one of the kindest, most compassionate psychiatrists and human beings I’ve ever known among those who have been lost to suicide. I miss my doctor.

  13. Steve Pohlit says:

    While very sad to read this, it is important to get the issue out in the open and help people understand compassion for anyone needing help. I am wondering also if there is a direct link to medical professionals in general not getting a lot of training in healthy lifestyles. Lack of sleep is mentioned in the article and comments.

    I am not a medical professional. I study doctors who offer great information on healthy lifestyles. I also represent an organization and bio electric device that is awesome in supporting better health, healing, recovery, sleep and more. While knowing people reporting amazing results, relatively few people know about this or for that matter pay attention once they do.

    There are solutions for this major issue. More awareness, education and action is part of the process.

  14. I think I have a reason, it may not be accurate, but I am going to take a stab at it any way. Doctors are taught to deal with pain by professional isolation, they may smile and feel empathetic, but underneath they are still professionals and they keep a degree of professional isolation. The problem is that isolation is not necessarily a good thing, you see because when you try to isolate yourself from your pain and suffering, you pay a mental toll, Doctors need someone they can vent at, you notice I used the term vent “at” and not “to”, venting at someone who knows what you are going through allows you to let go, without fear of someone trying to “fix” you, when you are not broken you just need to vent. Now, I am not a doctor, but I use to have ulcers, bad ones, why because everybody told me to push my feelings down, hold back when I was angry, people in my religion said it was wrong to have wrath, but one elder told me to read a scripture that saved my life Ephesians 4:26 “Be Wrathful, yet do not sin”. You see it is OK to get mad, upset, and angry, just do not lose sight of the humanity of the other person and yourself. From that I now express my anger at people and circumstances, and then I go on about my day, I apologize when necessary, and I beg pardon when necessary, I try not to be hurtful yet I let people know when they have crossed a line. I have not had a flare up in over 30 years, I am 52 years old. All I can say to these doctors is to be honest find someone they can talk to and try to vent. This is not medical advice, nor is it theological advise, it’s just advise from a person who had success with venting.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Professional distance IS part of the problem. Disconnection begets disconnection and can untether you from the world—another risky situation for the human psyche.

  15. EF says:

    I have been in his situation, it’s a miracle that I survived. Feel sorry about his family.
    We should stop asking the question : “how and why he did it”. We wouldn’t ask the question if he was suffering from cancer. Problem may be that we don’t consider Depression as a disease. The sooner we realize that IT IS a Disease, the better.

  16. Youlander Garner says:

    I encourage all Doctors to engage in prayer. Before anyone says anything, I am aware that not everyone believes in Jesus Christ. However, when a person experiences enough pain to believe that suicide will be the answer for making the pain stop, prayer cannot hurt, (especially when you’ve tried everything else).
    Always know that Jesus loves you enough to help you, and He won’t tell your secrets.
    Besides, we all need assistance from someone regardless to who we are or what profession we have.

  17. KKT says:

    Thank you for a very informative article, which touched on so many important points. The pressure and responsibilities imposed on a physician by society and by him/herself to diagnose and heal a patient are crushing. Physicians receive little or no support in handling the loss of a patient or a poor outcome. It is impossible to save everyone or complete every surgery without complications, yet that is the impossible standard to which they are held. I believe more emotional and mental support should be paramount to keep the healers healthy.

  18. I also wonder what is the percent correlation to substance use for all these suicides particularly with anistisiologists. Having worked in the OR in the past I have seen first hand the number of DR’s and nurses who use drugs.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Another study that should be undertaken. Right now just trying to get anesthesiologists to cover suicide at their annual convention (and they don’t seem to have any time in the schedule to address this topic unfortunately).

  19. Jill Shaffer says:

    Although I applaud you for bringing a very important and necessary topic of suicides in doctors to light, I am perplexed as to why you did not reach out to me for this (and other) talks/articles you have given/written – his wife of 20 years. Shame on you.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Been in very close contact with Ben’s siblings and would love the opportunity to speak with you. Please feel free to contact me confidentially here.

      • Catherine Leon says:

        Thank you for putting this out there. And thank you for providing details leading to Dr. Shaffer’s suicide assuming this was done with the consent of his family and legal to do so? Likely there is more to his story. My only point relates to med changes. I’m a therapist in private practice who has observed many people with anxiety disorders weaned off anxiolytics, people who have remained highly functional and successful because of them. New medications are introduced and trouble ensues.

  20. Mary Borge says:

    Such important information! As a concerned mental health professional and wife, I will be talking with my husband (a happy physician) about this today!!!

  21. Kim Lauch says:

    Pamela,
    Please let me help. Thank you for cultivating awareness. I’ve worked with surgeons one-on-one in my yoga therapy practice. It is unfortunately very apparent the level of stress held within the body, energy, and mind. Through yoga therapy there is hope. I’ve seen it help first hand and the studies are there to support. I see clients at a boutique doctor’s office, as well, as all over the country and international.
    Please contact me so I may help on any level needed. Thank you, again, for spreading the word.

  22. Joss says:

    This is very sad. The man was clearly loved and respected by many.

    I wonder if there is a chance that when he was weaned off of the anti-anxiety drug whether he didn’t just experience ‘rebound anxiety’ but much worse anxiety and possibly other symptoms that are known to occur when stopping such medications. These symptoms are often very severe and mistakenly attributed to an ongoing or worsening underlying mental health condition as it may have been in this case.

    Doctors need to be much more aware of the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms from anxiolytics such as Benzodiazepines.

    The best source of information that currently exists is by Prof. Heather Ashton:
    https://www.benzo.org.uk/manual/bzcha03.htm

    Recently a young woman left a letter to the medical profession after killing herself because of severe withdrawal symptoms: http://www.badbenzos.com/2018/08/26/medical-message/

    And it is increasingly clear that withdrawal from many other psychiatric drugs can cause severe and protracted withdrawal.

    There is good, grief advice on withdrawal from experts who have supported tens of thousands of people through withdrawal here: http://cepuk.org/withdrawal-advisers/

    Recently the Psychiatric Times published a piece about how big this problem is: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/addiction/online-communities-drug-withdrawal-what-can-we-learn

    If there is the slightest chance that this was a factor in this mans death then it is incumbent on all doctors to learn about withdrawal reactions.

  23. Suicidal Doctor says:

    I mentioned to my psychiatrist who was treating me for depression and P.T.S.D. (who was also vetted to me as THE psychiatrist in my state to be seen by for physicians) that I was not suicidal any longer but that I was surprised that after three prior years of nearly daily SI that I had not acted on it. Within 24 hrs this psychiatrist without further evaluation recommended to the board that I no longer be allowed to see patients and I was ordered to cease practice. No transition period for my patients nor any possibility to find appropriate care for their follow up. I was told to give them a list of possible providers and that I was not allowed to explain to them any circumstances simply that I could no longer see them. I remain horrified and hesitant to consider returning to practice despite horrendous need in an underserved area.

  24. Very disappointing to see this doctor’s avoidable death might be used in a PR/political way to explore issues pertaining to the medical field and not used in a broader context to explore the Public Health crisis regarding akathisia and psych drug risks vs. benefits. I have doctors and medical professionals in my family and don’t want harm to come to them or anyone else. Yet, I also personally know more about akathisia-induced death than I ever wanted to know. (My child died a prescription-drug induced death at barely 19 years-old and her avoidable suffering and death is here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1haYwZGcSRY&t=1s and https://rxisk.org/kidnapped-natalies-story/

    We can and must do better to educate the public and challenge the pharmaceutical model of mental health “care” psychiatry has chosen to lucratively embrace.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      The physician suicide crisis goes far beyond akathisia and psych drugs (though certainly an element). And these deeper issues need to be explored.

  25. John C says:

    Imagine being a professor or teacher who gets yelled at by students, who loses 5% of their pay if the student bombs a test, and then complains about it even though they did nothing to study for it.

    Imagine working:
    35 hours weekly in clinic
    21 hours via 3 hours nightly charting
    5-10 hours weekend hospital rounding
    and nursing home rounding
    plus 65+ hours off duty call every other week. Not sleeping right for a decade, unpaid
    that is 60+ hours weekly + 65 being woken up and then the hospital administrators suggests you are a .8 32 hour position since you only see patients 35 hours weekly.

    Imagine you get turned in for NOT giving a pill to cure colon cancer…there isnt one. Imagine people trash your name around town as being horrible, they are a drug seeker who lied to 3 MDs but you cant say that, you cant defend yourself. Imagine 70% of your baby boomer patients care so little about their health they are obese, do not exercise, imagine a parent says they cant afford $4 for their child’s antibiotic, yet spends more than that each day smoking….
    Oh and admin want you to see more patients the month before your unpaid vacation to make up for having the audacity to take a family vacation once every 2-3 years.

    and that, thats just scratching the surface. It has changed in the last decade. More paperwork, faster visits, less meaningful interaction, more drug seekers, less power to address it. Being one of the smartest people in America, studying 100 hours weekly for 12 years… and a nurse practitioner who studied 40 hours a week for their masters degree (all of ours worked full time while getting them) and has 1/7th or less the training can do medicine as good and nicer. I calculated mean GPAs between med schools and NP programs, more than 80% of nurses did not have the ability to even apply to med schools… That is modern medicine.. I actually cannot think of any way that it could get worse.. but hey politicians patients and admin have shown themselves to be remarkably gifted in surprisingly everyone in that regard so who knows.

  26. stillfighting says:

    When you try to end your life
    There are no get well cards
    No Meal Trains even though you’re afraid to leave the house to shop
    No GoFundMe page even though the bills are outrageous and your brain can’t process them
    No 5K runs to celebrate your fight with a deadly disease
    You can’t post on Facebook the yearly markers of your struggle
    Friends disappear, but you can’t blame them
    Family hopes the pills work
    In the community it’s like you never existed at all
    No one wants to talk about IT
    But just as if you had cancer, you fight for your life every day
    The treatments are experimental and costly and don’t always work
    The shame and grief are burdens you carry the rest of your life
    Which will never be the same. Never
    Your wounds are invisible but they feel gaping and raw
    And you wonder how it’s possible that no one else can see them
    And you live in terror that your kids will suffer the same pain
    Because they are the only reason you’re still fighting
    Because you ARE NOT A WIMP
    And you’ll keep fighting as long as you’ve got fight left in you
    At least for now,
    YOU ARE A SURVIVOR

  27. Scott says:

    I think it’s great that you’re bringing this problem out of the closet. I’m not suicidal, fortunately, but I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression (I currently take a benzodiazepine). As a non-physician, I often view doctors as being “perfect.” Conquering medical school, residencies, then having the strength to risk failure in treating other people…how could they not be perfect? I had no idea this was such a problem, and it’s good you are trying to remove the stigma.

    By the way, I was friends with Ben Shaffer in grammar school in Mansfield, Ohio. We were in several classes together. Even then, he stood out as someone special. If you’re in contact with his family, please convey my sympathies.

  28. Sergio Galvez says:

    I want this article in PDF. It gaves me strenght to fight mi current depressive disorder. And I’m not yet successfully undergraduated.

    I wish to read it again when I become a Doctor. I know that I will.

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