How to honor doctors who have died by suicide

Just posted on Facebook & encouraging others to join me in honoring doctors we’ve lost to suicide.

Wow! Just rolled in from a 36-hour road trip to Washington moments ago after facilitating an incredibly healing event to honor the lives of doctors we’ve lost to suicide in Washington. 💔 Honored to have been invited to facilitate the discussion before & after the Do No Harm documentary (view film trailer here) that exposes the hidden physician suicide crisis by two-time Emmy winning filmmaker Robyn Symon. In attendance were several families with loved ones honored in the film: Drs. Bryan Whitemarsh, Shawn C. Kelley, Matthew Seaman with spouses present Shannon Whitemarsh, Vince Nethery, and Dr. Linda Seaman in a powerful panel discussion highlighting how this global crisis impacts doctors & patients in Washington.

Of the more than 1,300 doctor suicides I’ve investigated on my suicide registry (3 more just submitted this week), there are nearly 30 from Washington. I invited all to attend. Eternally grateful for the courageous words of those family members who were able to stand on stage and speak on behalf of their loved ones tragically unable to receive the help they needed despite being surrounded by so many caring physicians in their hospitals & clinics.

Families shared their greatest moments of despair on stage in front of nearly 200 medical students, residents, and medical professionals. Thanks to Yakima Medical Society, Central Washington Family Medicine Program & Pacific Northwest University College of Osteopathic Medicine for hosting the event and sponsoring the film screening that would not have been possible without the incredible planning and organizational power of Hannah Udell OMS2, Dr. Kim Wadsworth PGY2, Program Director Dr. Katina Rue, Dr. Kay Funk (aka Rosie the Riveter). 🙏🙏🏻🙏🏼🙏🏾 Shout out to all the folks who drove in from hundreds of miles away to see the film: Terry Rice NP, Dr. Neil Golan, & so many others plus great to see Dr. Yami Lancaster (who was celebrated in the film for her amazing ideal clinic in Yakima!) 🎉👍

What an awesome display of appetizers before film & dessert buffet 🍰 🍫afterward (with amazing home-baked brownies and treats made by Kim, Hannah & other students). Plus everyone got a free book: Physician Suicide Letters—Answered (that includes chapters about many of the subjects featured in the film).

Our conversation began at 5:30 pm as people trickled into the auditorium and ended at 11:00 pm as the last few of us left the med school and then several of us reconvened in the morning at 9:00 am and continued the conversation while watching the Yakima parade 🎉 from our reserved Hilton breakfast suite right on Main Street!

Wonderful to have Rica Amity PhD and Bridget Beachy PsyD present to help students & residents with mental health needs during & after the film. 💕

So essential to provide a safe and open environment to process emotions after the film screening and to have a solution-oriented local panel discussion to highlight what is being done in Washington to address the crisis. Recent research indicates that Washington State continues to be adversarial with physicians suffering with mental health issues on their initial licensing applications and several present in the room shared how medical board mental health questions had harmed their loved ones stigmatizing and punishing them for occupationally induced psychological distress. Washington is a grade F state in Physician Friendly States for Mental Health: A Review of Medical Boards.

THE GOOD NEWS! This year the Washington State Legislature unanimously passed a Healthcare Whistleblowers Protection Bill. Yakima physicians are also presenting resolutions at the Washington State Medical Association annual meeting on October 12–13, challenging the Washington Medical Commission and the Washington PHP and asking for specific enumeration of physician suicides.

Fact is sometimes physicians are let down by the very systems that they support. Systems have let suicidal physicians down in their times of greatest need and are to blame for their deaths. When we rely on systems to help people we are in grave danger if systems fail. When physicians (who have lost so many colleagues to suicide) are told to be more resilient by a system that is failing them and violating their human rights, we all continue to suffer. Systems don’t save people. People save people. Heartless systems with disenfranchised workers will always fail us.

My greatest hope is that specialty societies will come together to honor the physicians they have lost to suicide, that local communities (hospitals, med schools, med societies) across the USA & the world will come together to honor the doctors they have lost to suicide. I’d love to help honor my brothers & sisters in medicine in any way I can (& have devoted my life since 2012 to this cause). I’ve been running a free suicide helpline for docs & med students for 7 years now. As always, I am here to talk. Reach out. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Please join me in breaking our silence & examining the root cause of each suicide so we can prevent the next needless death. If you’d like help organizing an event to honor physicians who have died by suicide, contact me.

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16 comments on “How to honor doctors who have died by suicide
  1. Sanford says:

    That was a very powerful and thought provoking email with insight and understanding

    I’m so very happy that people such as yourself are making such massive strides to bring this to the forefront for recognition and help for those without the stigma.

    You always have been amazing with your compassion and empathy even from what I remember as a teen when I first met you

    I’m happy that your decisions have been ones tgst helped you grow and decide that you are needed to help

    God bless you beautiful!
    My love always to you


  2. GT says:

    I have to say I know why doctors make people want to die and it’s probably just as deadly for doctors. It’s being told what to think, how to feel, how to respond like robots, multiple choice living, the hopelessness of being told if a doctor doesn’t know, it must not exist.
    The hopelessness of mind control & preconception over observation. Of serving evil organizations instead of mankind. The lack of compassion, self determination, exploration, joy, trustworthiness is devastating. I had no idea medical doctors were a part of organized evil until I was helpless to stop them. And then it got worse over the last two years of going doctor to doctor begging for help, after being disabled & destroyed.
    No one can live a happy life after surrendering their humanity to the medical frame of mind, the system, the cruelty, the stupidity, the waste of it all.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Thank you for your perspective. Reductionist medicine has its flaws. Humans are more than machines. Doctors are human, yet we are taught to be so professionally distant amid all the trauma that we lose connection with our own hearts and souls in the process of caring for others.

      As noted above: Systems don’t save people. People save people. Heartless systems with disenfranchised workers will always fail us. Medical system that sacrifices so many doctors to hopelessness and suicide has failed us all. Sadly.

  3. Unmatched MD says:

    Dr Wible,

    Thank you for your work. In tears. After 30+ years of school and no residency match, I have become a statistic myself. My entire life of hard work cane down to board scores, and all of a sudden, nothing else of me matters. Even people of my own medical community has thrown below the belt comments and judgements. Every single day i remind myself of everything I am than what I am not. Some days it’s hard. Feeling invisible to world of Medicine is no fun. Just when I thought I had it together, and tried to pretend a friend’s insulting comments to my setbacks meant nothing, I ended up in the emergency room for chest pain (panic attack like symptoms). Please know many like myself are finding strength through physicians and students who decided to end it this way and through your story telling of them.

  4. Astra Chang-Ramsden says:

    Pamela thank you for the work to do do. I’m a US trained physician, but I live and work Caribbean. Suicide in general continues to have a huge stigma in Trinidad. We talk about it in hushed tones, very similar to the US. Everyone knows someone in the profession who took thier own life, so we need to look at ourselves too. Thanks so much.

    Astra Chang-Ramsden
    Hospice and Palliative Care

  5. Bob says:

    Suicide is a terrible thing – no matter who it is. Suicide prevention is important. But don’t equate suicide prevention with human rights violations. This country never should have tried to become a nanny state. Since when is yelling at someone a human rights violation? Yes there are problems that need to be addressed. But all “professions” have these problems. What about the laborer who works two to three difficult jobs to keep his small home? Is he better off than doctors who get yelled at?

  6. BD says:

    Unfortunately Practitioners are not immune to the same maladies as non care givers. Some who choose the profession of doctoring for the need to control. When they realize they cannot they lose it.

  7. Anne says:

    Hi Pamela

    Thanks for sending this to me. I have so much admiration for you and the work you’re doing. I don’t think your work will be over in my lifetime, but I hope it is in yours. My daughter is a Captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, is in human resources with a background in “mortuary science.” She has a first-hand look at suicides in the military and their effects on family and comrades-in-arms. From what she’s told me (and what I’ve read) there are some commonalities. There are of course commonalities in many suicides (isolation, hopelessness, suffering) but what these two seemingly disparate groups have in come are such features as the institutionalization of risk factors. repetitive witnessing of trauma, threat of dishonorable discharge or loss of license for mental illness or substance abuse, externally recognized admiration (duty, honor, courage, mastery) with internally felt shame (major discordance in outer vs inner image), disillusionment about the profession and, above all, the constant, longterm requirement to put on a mask of normalcy and a projection of personal competence regardless of one’s internal state of being.

    I’m sure you’re aware of the importance and impact of your work on healthcare professionals and their families, but I want to point out to you that it goes well beyond the profession of medicine. Thank you so much!

  8. Bernie Seigel MD says:

    do osteopathic physicians commit suicide less frequently?

    touching patients may make a difference too

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      The philosophy of osteopathic medicine is more humanistic than mechanistic/reductionistic, however, the training is still brutal in many school. One popular DO school has a particularly toxic president/dean:

      “Dr. Wible, I’m at a medical school where the president of the school tells students daily to kill themselves, jump off the top of the building. He also personally attacks students based on weight.” (This is ongoing at the time of publication.)

      So many variables Bernie. Bullying exists in nearly all med institutions, some worse than others. Even DO schools.

  9. Anne says:

    Thank you for your work!
    Just yesterday I was in our ICU as residents joked about whether gunshot through the mouth would be a painless way to kill self. I indicated that it is not funny. We discussed the facts that doctors are at high risk; that I have unfortunately experience with the fact that this “method” is sometimes very painful; and that in any case we need to take the emotional pain that causes and results from suicide very seriously. I mentioned your work. What started as a “joke” turned into a nice conversation.

  10. Renee Meyocks says:

    That is a wonderful follow up to Yakima’s DO NO HARM screening. Thank you, Dr. Wible.

    I was fortunate to have attended the screening. After that troubling but important film, you asked the audience to turn to their neighbors and talk about it, while you and others set up the panel discussion that followed.

    To my right was a young woman. We turned toward each other at the same time and introduced ourselves. She was a young medical student. I said, “That film was really important to watch, wasn’t it?” She nodded yes, but with a very sad look that showed she couldn’t speak just then. I said to her, “It looks like you need to say something.” And she quietly responded, “I’m so depressed,” and began to cry. I told her I was glad she said that and that there were people in attendance who were there specifically to speak to attendees who were struggling and she said she would like to speak with one. A doctor with YCMS sitting to my left began talking to her about contacts for persons and organizations that could help her as I went to ask an event organizer, Dr. Katina Rue to help connect this young woman with one of her expert attendees – each wearing a heart sticker for identification. After the panel discussion, one of the panelists, Dr. Beachy, approached the student and they talked. Later, I saw the student smiling and laughing with classmates. Before she left she stopped and gave me a hug goodbye. — Acknowledgement, compassion, awareness, a way forward, isolated no more…it was all their and, I’m sure, a vital new beginning for many that evening. Thank you so much.

  11. In Switzerland non-physician-assisted suicide is legal, the assistance mostly being provided by volunteers, whereas in Belgium and the Netherlands, a physician must be present. In Switzerland, the doctors are primarily there to assess the patient’s decision capacity and prescribe the lethal drugs. Additionally, unlike cases in the United States, a person is not required to have a terminal illness but only the capacity to make decisions. About 25% of people in Switzerland who take advantage of assisted suicide do not have a terminal illness but are simply old or “tired of life”.

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