Suicide censorship? Grieving mom speaks out.

Sean Petro Medical Student Suicide

Cheryl with son, Sean Petro, as a medical student.

Dear Dr. Wible,

As you know I lost my son Sean Petro on Mother’s Day 2016 but he wasn’t found until two days later.

From the moment Sean was found by USC/Keck police in his apartment I have been treated by his medical school like a person with no feelings. We were the last to be invited to his school’s memorial. At the end of the memorial I was told by the Associated Dean in no uncertain terms that Sean was the first medical student to die by suicide at USC/Keck. She made sure to tell me that Derek Seehausen who went missing Sean’s first year in school had just changed his mind about being a doctor. She hoped that he was now a bartender down in Cabo, Mexico. Then she went on to tell me that a doctor died suddenly a year before Sean. I guess he did die suddenly when he jumped from the school roof and landed in the quad on the pavement.

Over the year they have done nothing to ease my grief. They wanted me to attend his graduation so that they could present me with his hood. I asked for a moment of silence and an honorary degree in his name. They never said anything about the degree it’s like when they don’t like something I ask they just ignore the question like they didn’t hear it or I never asked it. They mailed me a hood.

Some of my friends have told me via Facebook after all my posting about Sean’s suicide or other medical suicides that I need to move on with my life. I need to be grateful for what I have in life and move on with it.  

I am just shocked and hurt that not only did I lose my only child the day he chose to end his life. I lost all my friends/family too! They could just have come over to my house to just sit with me as I cry. I realize it’s not comfortable for them but they could call me to talk to me or listen to me cry. Now as I start my second year without Sean it’s harder than the first because now all the firsts are over and there is no tricking myself into thinking he’s just away at school. It’s hard to watch his friends moving on with their lives. They are getting married, starting their careers, and having babies. Something Sean will never get to do and I will never get to experience through him. I always wanted to be a grandmother but that’s never going to happen.

I pray that the movie Do No Harm will bring out medical schools’ dirty secret. I hope that it will wake up the medical community to do something to change this problem. I hope that no other family will go through what I have gone through. I still live everyday knowing that I didn’t know Sean was depressed that he hid it from me. Moms are supposed to protect their children and I feel like I failed at this job.


Sean Petro Baby

Newborn Sean Petro with mom, Cheryl.

How should schools handle medical student suicides? Should parents be warned of the high rates of depression and suicide among medical students before they drop their kids off at school? Should the suicide rates at medical schools be made public? Do families deserve honorary degrees? What’s the best way to comfort a mother who has lost her (only) child to suicide? Why are we so uncomfortable talking about suicide? What do you think?

Please help us break the silence. View Do No Harm movie trailer and pledge your support:


Pamela Wible, M.D., is author of Physician Suicide Letters—Answered. View her TEDMED talk Why doctors kill themselves. Need help? Contact Dr. Wible.

Tags: , , , , ,
Add your comment below or scroll down to read 48 comments

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


48 comments on “Suicide censorship? Grieving mom speaks out.
  1. Newt says:

    Honestly speaking, hospitals need to start talking openly about the mental health issues in medical professionals. That, as well as making suicide stats public.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:


    • Cheryl says:

      Hospital maybe already taking about mental health. However I think that’s all they are doing is taking. They need to take ACTION.

      I too believe someone should be keeping stats on suicide & that those stats should be public records.

  2. Jim Cox says:

    This grieving mother has the impression that the medical college wants to sweep news of these suicides under the rug. I don’t doubt it. It’s disturbing that the college won’t own up to the issue. It’s intellectually dishonest to pretend that the problem doesn’t exist.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      I hold medical institutions and scientists to higher standards on truth telling—especially about medical topics AND when it comes to suicides of their very own employees and students.

    • Cheryl says:

      I don’t have the impression Medical schools want to sweep it under the rug I know they do. It’s about money that they want it swept under the rug. I was told by a doctor friend who would want to go to a school with a high suicide rate. Which is true I would never have wanted my son to go to one with a high rate of suicide.
      I think all parents wouldn’t want that either which would lead to loss of student enrollment. Loss of enrollment leads to loss of money to the school.

  3. Anonymous Student says:

    Dear Cheryl,

    I’m very sorry for the loss of your son, Sean, and for the trauma it sounds like you suffered from lack of support after Sean’s death. Thank you for making your grief and frustration public and adding to the conversation on this issue.

    As a third-year medical student who has struggled with depression since my teens, I have found my recent years in medical school to be the most psychologically difficult since my very first, and worst, depressive episode (I’m now in my 30s). While I know many of my colleagues and superiors also suffer, depression remains a serious taboo, even within our U.S. society that stigmatizes mental illness. 

    When I was struggling with my own mental well-being this past year and my grades began to show it, the burnout that I confessed to have (since for multiple reasons I would never utter the words “I am depressed” to a medical school administrator) was met with an attitude that seemed to seek more to address an inconvenience I presented than to demonstrate any real compassion for my suffering. What extra work was I now going to be for the deans? How would they have to re-arrange my schedule if I needed to repeat a course? How many psychiatric sessions could I get for free? Was I an immediate suicide risk?

    For many people at all levels of this profession, I think their professional sense of self is strongly rooted in a self-perceived toughness and the ability to withstand the abuses and difficulties of medical education and practice. Sure, perhaps not everyone has suffered to the point of depression, but I think the majority have suffered emotionally and psychologically in their training. And since medical training and practice leave little time for emotional processing, most people compartmentalize their suffering or deal with it in some unhealthy way to the point that unhealthy coping becomes professionally necessary, or even preferred. It follows, then, that those within the profession who routinely show emotion, even out of sight of patients, and who may need time to cope with their emotions, are viewed as simply not belonging in the profession. 

    While my experience in the medical world is limited, there is a part of me that thinks this prevailing attitude is changing, however slowly. More and more, older, non-traditional students like myself are entering medical school. Many of us arrive to school with several years of work experience as well as some personal and emotional development already behind us. We observe the unhealthy emotional environment of medical school and right away say to ourselves, “Whoa, this is not normal.” Our frustrations and disbelief at our new surroundings lead us to conversations with other students and with deans, initiating new programs or policies at our institutions, and incremental change to make medical training hopefully a bit more humane. It’s the most we students can hope to do while still surviving one of the most notoriously difficult training programs. Changing the culture significantly will require much more, especially coming from the top if it ever comes, but we’re trying.

    This past year, one of our students (whom I did not know personally) suddenly left his studies, then passed away a few months later. Students who knew him understood the cause of his death to be suicide, but his family apparently did not want the school to share the circumstances of his death with his former classmates and requested privacy. After his death, one of the deans sent out a brief email to the deceased student’s cohort explaining that the student had passed along with a link to behavioral health support services (outpatient counseling center located several miles from campus). Nothing more was said. Some of his former classmates were outraged and approached the deans to hold a grief session for students, at the very least. Eventually, the deans gave in and announced a grief session (the deans said they would have initiated something in the first place but for the family’s wish for privacy). Fewer than five students showed up to grieve.   

    I believe that this story supports, at a minimum, part of what Cheryl’s experience shows: that medical schools have no idea how to deal with student suicide or the grieving loved ones (fellow students and family) left behind. Even when a school tries to help (“Look! We are doing the grief session you asked for.”), the very idea of emotional processing is so foreign to the environment of medical school that no one shows up. While I don’t think schools’ ignorance or slowness to respond is out of maleficence, I do think they understand that speaking candidly about student suicide and grief would force them to begin a wider, much more unpredictable discussion of depression in medical school and the profession as a whole (not to mention the inconvenience of subsequent suicidality screenings, co-payments to psychiatrists, and re-arrangement of schedules). That is a discussion that is still far too taboo for most of the medical establishment, including medical school deans. 

    Cheryl, thank you again for your willingness to speak out on this from a place of personal loss. It is an important issue to me, personally, as someone who has had suicidal thoughts in medical school and who has known of other students whose suicidal thoughts were, tragically, turned to actions (besides the story from my home institution, a friend of mine at another medical school took his own life while on a leave of absence last year). I know my response has not necessarily answered all your questions, but it is my attempt to give some context to the problem of medical student suicide from my humble perspective. One suggestion that I do have for you, however, would be to look for other parents of medical students who have committed suicide and to build relationships with them. I’m not sure how you can find those parents, and I know USC has not been of great help during your grief, but maybe planting the seed of this idea with USC could give them something concrete to do to support you. Coming from a 12-step background, there is something very powerful in sharing your experience with others who can understand how you feel. Or maybe another institution that is more holistic and student-centered, such as UCSF, could have some guidance on how to build a network of support for parents like you. There are empathic medical school deans out there!

    Lastly, thank you for giving me an opportunity to express some of my own thoughts and feelings about mental health in medical training and beyond. It is a passion of mine and something I hope to work on throughout my career.

    In solidarity,


    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your current-day experiences in medical training. I’m certain that once the public understands the seriousness of the suicide crisis there will be greater pressure placed on medical institutions to have safe learning & working environments for the good of all. Challenging to solve a problem nobody knows exists.

      Your story of 5 students showing up to grieve reminds me of a talk I gave in DC at the AAFP conference in 2014: Physician Suicide 101: Secrets, lies & solutions. Heavily promoted at a conference with 5000 attendees. Room was set for 900. Only 100 people came. Then I published the talk online (see above link). The article was picked up by Medscape and became the #1 most-commented and most-read in their 20-year history online! So much shame around mental health issues for docs that they won’t show up at a live suicide event, yet they all want to read the article in the closet when their family is asleep!

    • Cheryl Collier says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience on thoughts of suicide. I know it’s not easy to speak out on this subject.

      I have met a few fellow parents of medical students/Physican suicides. It does help to have them for support. Thanks to Dr Wible for helping to put us in contact with each other. Most of those I’ve met do not live close by me. We are all in different states. Granted we can email, text, and FB. It’s just sometimes it would be nice to have someone local. Unfortunately it’s a club no would ever choose to join. We are in this club we’d all give anything to not be a part of such a club.

      As far as reaching out to USC I’ve tried several times. Every time they basically tell me they’ve got everything covered. What I left out of my letter is on the day my son was found, USC offered my husband money. He was told to “name a price and don’t worry about the number.” We turned down the offer as no amount of money can ever replace Sean. Along with accepting any money would be blood money to me and it would have prevented me from being able to speak out about this subject (non-disclosure agreements that schools have parents sign prevent them from talking about the suicide). We have asked USC several times why they even offered us money 14 months later they have ignored the question.
      I’ve heard USC is trying to change things at the school and I pray they are successful. I know change is slow. I am hopeful changes are coming. I just wished it would have happened before I lost my only child.
      Please take care of yourself as you continue in the medical field. I thank you for your reaching out to me. I pray your able to help be part of the change in the medical community. You sound like you will be a doctor with lots of compassion and empathy. Please don’t change make the community change to be more like you. ❤️

      • Tina Euresti says:

        Hello Cheryl. I am so very sorry for your loss. I have done so much resurch on this issue and the health care industry for many years and have very strong feeling I am not even a parent of a medical student. I am just learning they must have a problem that is more sinister than depression. I am very angry and feel it is my duty to speak up and out about this problem…. I know when I started to follow this topic I was intrigued with Kaitlyn Elkins and her mother. I hope you can help to bring issue to place it needs to be… I am going to also say you should keep it on down low. I am even paranoid and horrified this is going to end. please follow all you can on heath care industry, Share your pain and anger as much as you can do not bother schools or hospitals, Just inform people and family’s that have ties to health care. You are not alone and I want to encourage compassion and empathy for the people like student who reached out to you. What is going on and what can we do to help?

  4. Ameet Kumar MD says:

    Hello Dr Wible,

    I am a graduate of a medical school, Dow Medical College in Karachi, Pakistan.
    We had this sad incident, when one of my class fellow took away his life during his internship year.
    It was really hard to imagine and understand what just happened then. It’s over a year now and still that seems like a nightmare.
    What I think is that the med school, no matter where, either in U.S. or here in Pakistan or anywhere shpuld seriously think about it.
    I personally feel there should be a student-body (any group) to tackle the problems in real time.
    There must be a system which identifies those vulnerable students who are facing this mental breakdown or maybe clinical depression and be offered the therapy and support they need!

    Best Wishes,
    Ameet Kumar, M.D.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Ameet, what did your school do in the aftermath to help the students cope?

      • Ameet Kumar MD says:

        Well immediately after the incident our school held a condolence meeting with all the head of departments, where they planned to devise “something” which we never saw after that.

        Our Psychiatry department also arranged few seminars regarding the mood and affect disorders and discused ways to manage them.

    • Cheryl Collier says:


      Schools need a screening process to find those at risk. Also a no punishment system when the students do need help. Otherwise students are never going to ask for help. Here in the US when students and physicians get help it puts red flags in their records. Which can prevent them from getting jobs or not being able to get their license to write prescriptions. No one wants this on their record

      • MICHELLE says:

        I graduated from USC Keck School of Med. This statement is very true. The privacy and compassion afforded we wish for our patients are not available to us.

      • Frances Trumble says:

        Dear Cheryl, I agree that students should be assessed for being “at risk”. The fact that John died such a tragic death when Sean was in his formative years was surely a red flag. Did Sean receive counseling after John died? I’m afraid that he was depressed for many years prior to his suicide. My heart goes out to you.

  5. RH says:

    I’m not yet in medical school, but I think that if I were I would expect the school to hold a ceremony for said person, and I would hope they would offer help to other students if they are experiencing something similar (without judging them).

    I would prefer the school I attend to be aware of the current abuse and prevalence of suicide occurring in the medical field so that they could be proactive about it and try to prevent it.

    • Cheryl says:

      Some schools do hold memorial services for the person who died. My Sony school did they just forgot to invite us his parents. We had to call them to see if we could attend. His school held counseling sessions for his fellow students after pressured. Then had such a big turn out they had to add days for more sessions.
      It really all comes down to money unfortunately. It cost the school money to prevent suicides. It cost money for memorial services. Plus it gets out that said school has high suicide rate. This in turn cost money from lack of enrollment.

  6. JM says:

    Hello Dr. Wible,
    I think there should be classes on how to handle stress, depression, and other issues that arise in medical school. Some students are away from family, and friends and are unable to handle the stress that comes in medical school. I also think that mentorship should be mandatory while in medical school. Who does an individual talk to when they get down or feel lonely while in school? How does one build up the courage to seek help when their emotions get the best of them? Suicide is at an all time high. There is a dire need of assistance in with reducing this issue. I hope there will be a solution.

  7. Krystal says:

    It is time that the public and the medical community realize that we the medical “fraternity” are human beings and do suffer the same as the general public with respect to fatigue/burnout/trauma/disappointment/depression and anxiety.To be the best we can for our patients, we ourselves need to be the best us.For far too long the notion of “I suffered as a resident and didn’t sleep for days and look at me now ,man up you can do it too”, has been the norm even though many studies has shown the effects of lack of sleep on one’s psyche.This is just one of the many brutal facts medical students and physicians face daily.I think it is high time that we acknowledge and educate future generations on the “high risk” associated with this job not just physically but mentally as well.Suicide and following through with it is no joke or easy task…its totally against our innate human nature which is to always “survive”.I applaud your cause Dr. Wible and hope one day we can de- stigmatize mental health issues amongst medical professionals.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Too often doctors, nurses, and other health professionals are not kind to each other. Bullying, hazing, sleep deprivation, and abuse do not belong in health care or medical education. Yet this behavior is passed on from generation to generation. Stockholm syndrome maintains these cycles of abuse. It’s a condition in which victims develop empathy for their captors. Somehow, in a weird way, they support their oppressors. Call attention to their abuse and victims defend it. Docs with Stockholm syndrome fight to maintain antiquated medical traditions rampant with human rights violations. Why? To save us from future generations of lazy doctors, they warn.

    • Cheryl says:

      Krystal you are correct the public needs to know your humans not robots.
      Before my son took his own life I had no idea the problems in the medical community. I always knew you were all humans. I even put you all on a pedestal like you were all God like. Since his death when I have doctor appointment I asked them if they slept well the night before or did they fight with anyone on the way to work. I also don’t take what I’m told by doctors like they know everything. I realize now how broken the system is broken in so many ways.
      I just wished I knew before my son died he was in such a broken system. That suicides happen all the time in this field.

  8. A says:

    Woooh! Hella insensitive!

  9. Concerned Med Student says:

    Thank you, Pamela, for the work you’ve been doing. Sending you much love and light.

    My hope for schools and administrators:

    1. Be completely transparent, always. Don’t immediately, or ever, move towards PR damage-control. This student was a part of our community; this is about a person’s life, not the school’s reputation. Treating the death of a student primarily, or in any way, as a blight on the school’s image or accreditation is gut-wrenching and dehumanizing. This not only dehumanizes our fellow student, but all of us as well.

    2. Do not cover up information, withhold details from students, or assert it was an “accident” before knowing whether this was truly the case.

    This erodes trust, re-affirms stigma, and makes it difficult for students to get help regarding the death. It also sets a terrifying precedent for students before they even begin their careers– that one must not show any “weakness,” question a system that puts our lives at stake, or risk their career in any way by talking openly about concerns.

    3. Even if a death is ruled an accident, if there is a possibility that it could have been due to factors related to stressors in this career–intentional or unintentional self-harm, bullying, neglect, lack of sleep, stimulants, impulsive behavior, etc–this should never be overlooked or silenced. The victim of this system should never be blamed. A formal discussion and impartial investigation about how a student’s death could have been prevented should always occur.

    4. My suggestion would be to bring in outside experts who can discuss the events with faculty and students in a sensitive, nonjudgmental way. We need to break down silence from the highest levels, including accrediting bodies and state medical boards. The aim should be to honor a student’s life by preventing this from happening again.

    5. In the case of an accidental overdose, do not use this term to brush aside the significance of a preventable death or allow this to make things “ok.” An overdose is still a preventable death, and quite likely related to the inability to get help for depression or substance use without fear of repercussions. Whether it was suicide or completely accidental, there should be an open discussion about the death without fear of reprisal.

    6. To administrators: Never suggest that the death of our classmate is par for the course and do not suggest that any of this is normal. It is not.

    We will not be silent.

    • Cheryl says:

      These are all great ideas that could be done so easily but getting schools to do it is another thing.

  10. Shane says:

    I think one of the biggest, and most worrisome issues with this story, and so many like it, are the medical school institutions, faculty, and staff’s inability to acknowledge that there is an issue. For too many years, medical personnel have struggled and suffered in their attempts to help heal others. Organizations, specifically medical schools and hospitals, need to acknowledge that these issues exist, stop letting their pride turn into ignorance and make sure that we don’t sacrifice our life in addition to everything else we give up in order to treat others. We’re no use to society if we’re depressed, addicted to drugs, or dead. Becoming a physician is already strenuous without the added struggles associated with mental health. My school started a program, still in it’s infancy, to provide services to students that are suffering but that’s just the beginning. Time, resources, and acknowledgement are required in order to ensure that countless lives are not lost, especially when they could have been prevented with support, care, and guidance.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      That is the sad part. By recognizing (and not running away from the mental health crises in medical professionals) we actually can prevent these suicides rather easily. It’s ignoring these suicides that IS the problem.

      • Tom H says:

        Pamela, I disagree that “we actually can prevent these suicides rather easily.” Suicide is a deeply personal and fundamentally evaluative phenomenon. There is no biomedical cause-effect evidence that suicide results from an anatomical or biochemical anomaly. There are statistical association studies that demonstrate a link between what we call mood disorders and suicidal ideation, but these are fraught with cultural biases and it is not known what the associations actually mean. Yes, our culture overall has a problem ignoring suicide–but not, I don’t believe, at the intervention stage. The problem’s root can be seen in the way we address the suicidal–censoring them, infantilizing them, pathologizing them, and ultimately invalidating them and their evaluations as if we had hard scientific proof that one suicide platform is correct and another wrong.

        It’s no wonder more and more nations around the world and more US citizens are reframing suicide as a question of philosophy rather than science. And it’s an irony that whenever physicians like myself who deal with these issues professionally and empirically talk about them, our comments mysteriously vanish, as if by silencing our contributions this means what we have to say goes away. Censoring the many facets of suicide causation discusions only drives them deep underground.

        • Pamela Wible MD says:

          Thanks Tom for your thoughts. I do agree on the complexity and cultural backdrop. However, when a profession such as medical training leads to so many more suicides we can certainly do better by creating a humane and safe learning (and working) environment that also destigmatizes the conversation around mental health. I would bet my life that the majority of these suicides in medicine would not be happening with such an approach to medical training.

    • Cheryl says:

      Yes the medical community really needs to admit they have a problem.

      I recently spoke with one of my own doctors. He told me the higher ups want him to set up a wellness program for the center. He told me it’s great they want to do this but set it up is all they will really do. Reason being it cost the group money and the higher ups aren’t going to want to spend the money. Makes me sick that basically they set stuff up to make it look like they are addressing the problem but in reality nothing is happening. It’s all just for show.

  11. Shadan says:

    When it comes to suicide, it’s such a sensitive subject to talk about. I came from a war zone country. I lived there my whole life until the year of 2013. In the war, I’ve seen a lot of grief. Mothers losing their children or the opposite. I was taught the idea of moving on with my life because it’s just a fact. I was taught that what happened has happened, and we shouldn’t be sad about it for too long. I understand how Cheryl feel about the loss of her son, and I completely understand her request for comfort. In my opinion, as the rate of Medical students committing suicide, we can not deny the data. Medical Schools should inform the public about it. I personally don’t think that parents deserve an honorary degree because their son/ daughter chose to take his or her own life and it wasn’t by anyone else. Sean was able to choose another life for him. He could drop out of Medical Schools. Plus, he didn’t go to the military to be recognized as an honor for doing what he did. My words could be harsh (I’m Sorry!). These Students of Medical School as being pressured to the point where they are losing their sanity, and yes! the Medical Schools should re-question their morals on the way they are presenting Medical careers to other students who are genuinely interested in becoming doctors.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Honesty would go a long way. Transparency. Informed consent. The foundation of science. Ya know, the truth.

    • Cheryl says:

      Your words are harsh and I pray you never lose a child.
      As for the honorary degrees when a guest speaker comes and speaks at commencement ceremonies across the country they are given from the schools not only money for speaking. The are also offered a honorary degree. I’m sorry I don’t see the difference between some actor receiving a HONARY degree or my son who at least was on track to earn the degree. Truthfully if I had received the degree it would be one more reminder of another thing my son will never finish.
      As for military they at least treated me with respect as a grieving mother.
      Also my son didn’t chose to end his life as you put it. His undiagnosed sleep deprivation & mental health affected his brain. You really need to look into educating yourself in Mental Illness & sleep deprivation. No one in they right mind chose to end there life.

  12. Tom H says:

    I’m writing this comment anonymously because, as a practicing physician, I know my career is at stake in discussing suicide in anything but the officially approved sense. When I was in medical school, four students from my class–students I knew personally–left during our first two years due to extreme depression. One of them, a gay Latino male in one of the most racially homogeneous, conservative, anti-gay parts of the USA, who’d been my friend since high school was being seen by the medical school psychologist. The empirically evidenced intervention of the medical school psychology department was to tell him that the community he was living in had “many other gay Latinos who were happy and well-adjusted.” It was a patent lie. But because much of psychology doesn’t require physical substantiation of its interventions, different practitioners can resort to personal biases and even fabrications as “therapy.”

    It’s not my intent to attack modern psychology. My friend committed suicide on the day we all would have graduated from medical school. I found out from my parents. I don’t know what happened to the other three who left from our freshman class. But depression is rampant among medical students. The stress. The long hours. The insane competition. The emotional abuse from peers, faculty, school and hospital administrators. And worst of all, a culture the author above does a terrific job pointing out that just doesn’t want to deal with suicide honestly and effectively. You can’t talk about it–or you’re silenced. You’re obliged, if you ever happen to mention you’re suicidal, to follow up quickly with, “I tried your recommendations and now I’m great!” There is no room for discourse. There is only submission to an unevidenced model of suicide and the championing of the professional organization’s (APA) personal and cultural philosophies as if these constitute hard scientific evidence.

    And we wonder why we are at a 30-year high in suicide rates. If our current anti-suicide methods worked, including our rabid suicide-discussion censorship policy (try speaking openly about suicide in comment sections online & watch your comment get flagged or simply “moderated” out of existence), then suicide rates worldwide ought to be drastically falling. But they’re doing the opposite. I guess it’s OK, so long as people aren’t made to feel uncomfortable by others’ true suffering, and so long as people can feel better about themselves for “helping” when they utter, “Go get professional help!” No suicidal person who hears those words ever mistakes the undertone of disengagement, and this too often only makes someone who’s already suicidal feel all the more so.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Tom thank you SO much for sharing publicly (notice I don’t censor comments on my blog)!!! I’m more than optimistic that this film will have major impact in opening up a conversation that has been suppressed for more than a century: If you’ve not seen the movie trailer, please check it out. I’d also like to know the name of your friend who died. I’m tracking these cases. I’ll email you now.

  13. Cheryl says:

    Another death at USC/Keck this past week. The student had been dead for over a week in the dorm. Other students or the schools missed the student. Granted school just started recently but no one but the cleaning crew smelled the awful smell?? He was found decomposed with his clothes on except his shoes on his bed. The first reports are saying he died of natural causes at 24 yrs old. I hope the corner finds the truth.

    The school put out the exact same letter to the students that they sent when Sean died. I guess they have a standard letter save and just put in current dead students name.

  14. MP says:

    Heartbroken to read Cheryl’s story and more so that her beloved o Ly child went to my alma mater, USC. I was so traumatized training at USC during the tumultuous 1992 LA Riots: not only of racial violence but also if the disparate socioeconomic hardships of our indigent patients in East and South Central LA.

    I have battled major depression and difficulties practicing medicine since 1992. I am sickened to know that not much has improved since my cohort of classmates went through. I along with others here, applaud Dr Wible’s important advocacy and moms like Cheryl who are breaking their silence. Together, we can change the tide and prevent more tragic losses like Sean’s. Deep bows of gratitude.

    • Cheryl Collier says:

      Dear MP

      Thank you for your kind words. It’s not always easy to speak out. For me it’s the only way I can keep Sean from being forgotten.

      I’m sorry you are having to deal with depression. I too struggle with it. We never knew Sean was dealing with it too. He hide it very well. I pray you are seeking help and not struggling in silence. I know the system makes it hard for doctors to get help. I beg you to take care of yourself first. Being a doctor is tough and a lot of people don’t realize what all you go through. Going through this has really changed my view on the medical community.
      Please take care

  15. Anonymous User says:

    What are your thoughts on students going to medical school or any school because of pressure from family, money, prestige, and job security being the only factor/s motivating students, knowing that medicine is not a right fit for them in any way? You have not addressed these factors in the comments that I have read, but you might have in previous comments. A student might reach a point during med school, residency, or practice where he or she thinks to himself or herself things like, “I didn’t/can’t match into a surgical specialty and now I am stuck doing family medicine, pm and r, Internal medicine or other nonsurgical specialty and do not want to do them for the rest of my life because they pay low and lack prestige.” “I went to med school because of my family/I wanted to show the bullies in grade school i am better than them and now I am stuck in a job that i hate everything about and is eating away at my soul but I can’t leave because my family will be disappointed in me and that disappointment i cant live with.” These comments, based on experience living in this world, I bet are playing in unhappy med students and doctors heads more than you are acknowledging in the comments I have read. I really believe that a good portion of physician/med student suicides are committed due to similar comments to the ones I described above dominating their thought process. The idea that the reason physicians commit suicide was because they were noble people wanting to do good who were bogged down and burned out by the system that let them down is legitimate. But I feel you need to address another most likely more prevalent elephant in the room of physician suicide due to similar comments I described above so people can make an informed decision.

    You are doing a great service to the community. I don’t mean to be disparaging in any way to the fields mentioned in the comments I described. By writing this respo nse, I also don’t mean to suggest that the mother in this article pressured her son to go to med school for prestige, money, etc. Or that her son went to med school for those reasons. Her relationship with her son is between her and him is a private matter I respect and posting this response under an article about her sons suicide might suggest i am questioning her relationship with her son. That is not the case. I felt the need to write this response because I have read too many of these physician suicide articles and felt compelled to respond to one of them(who was being described did not play a role in my response)

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      I totally agree that those who pursue medicine for less noble or “soulful” reasons are out of alignment with the mission of medicine. This is not a profession that one should choose because of status, family pressure, money, or other more superficial and cultural reasons. Medicine is a spiritual calling at its core and those who enter this field with other objectives are potentially going to feel unfulfilled at a deep level.

      Here are a few things that are particularly disturbing to me:

      1) People who choose a specialty based on lifestyle. You may end up in dermatology but your heart is in family medicine. You’ll be unfulfilled. Bored. Or worse.

      2) Both my parents actually told me (after much pressuring and relentless questioning by me) that they entered medicine for parental approval. My dad was assigned to be the doctor by his parents in the 1930s. Jewish family. He took the path of least resistance and did it to be a good boy. Was he happy? He made the best of it as a pathologist. He wanted to be a sculptor or an artist. So he did autopsies instead. My mom became a doctor so that her mother would love her (she actually said that) and also for financial security. She got the financial security but I don’t think she won her mom over. Was she happy? I’m not sure she was. It was a hellish ride through a very sexist medical education system in the 1960s. There were only 8 women in her class.

      As for me I felt like I was destined to do the work I am doing and I am truly following my soul’s purpose. I did not pursue medicine for money, ego, power, parental acceptance (I think my parents have been baffled by me my entire life & will never truly understand me or my motivations).

      3) Oh and I am on the phone with LOTS of premed students who decide because they broke their ankle playing volleyball in 7th grade that they want to be an orthopedic surgeon. Or the sheer number or young people with very little life experience who end up with a medical condition and they are saved by a specialist and then they want to pursue that field. Don’t choose a specialty because of one incident or one doctor you crossed paths with as a child or because you liked a TV show about neonatology. Get real life experience. Shadow a neurosurgery resident. This may NOT be your dream after all.

      4) My friend had a brain tumor and then decided she wanted to go to med school to make her neurosurgeon proud and she kind of romanticized and idealized the story of her comeback from cancer to becoming a doctor. Well, now she has 450K debt and she doesn’t like being a doctor so much.

      The only reason to go to medical school is because you feel a calling in your SOUL that you can not ignore (even when you try) to be a healer and to serve people who are suffering AND you get the real-world experience with doctors in that specialty that reinforce to you that you want to spend 40+ years of your life doing this. IT IS A BIG DECISION that will define your entire life.

      Here’s an example of a woman who is in med school for the right reasons:

      Hope that helps. I could go on and on about this . . .

      P.S. And for women going into medicine, let me warn you the number of female physicians I speak with in their 40s who have frozen eggs and delayed childbearing and are trying to date someone quick so they can procreate but they can’t really even have a normal conversation (some of them) on a date with a regular kinds guy because (some of them) have PTSD from working as an ED doc at a level 1 trauma hospital or they are a neonatology fellow picking up half-dead babies in a helicopter all night and having anxiety attacks. If you want to have a family and you go into a demanding specialty you may not be on the timeline you set for yourself in your personal life. THINK SERIOUSLY about your decision to pursue medicine.

      And all of us in medicine need mental health care.

      I could go on . . .

      • Anonymous User says:

        Speaking of mental health care, I am interested in mental health and becoming a psychiatrist. I have researched psychiatry, and interviewed one in person to find out their daily routine, hours worked each week, practice setup, etc. All the psychiatrists I talked to refused shadowing opportuniites. I have considered similar careers such as law, psychology, social worker but I fould myself struggling to break into the law field and the job markets for the other fields are similarly hard to break into. I keep finding myself called to helping people with their problems and am interested in a field that involves thinking rather than using my hands. I am interested in mental disorders and I keep feeling called to psychiatry because the field involves thinking,and helping others with mental disorders via drugs and therapy. Having job security is important to me and psychiatry provides that, so i am also called to psychiatry because of job security. I am curious what you think of someone who is called to psychiatry for a combination of altruistic and pratical reasons? The two “extremes have been covered and sometimes to be truly happy in all aspects of life there has to be a balance because finances do play a role in our lives.

  16. Dr. Jane Doe says:

    I found this website after a suicide at my Medical School. I was trying to find out how many medical student, intern, resident suicides happen on an annual basis and that information is very cleverly hidden. Our school sent an email 3 days following the suicide stating their deep condolences, followed by a Medical school had “nothing to do with this tragic loss”. The student outrage reached new levels- now 3 months following the young students death our school plans to host a 1 hr memorial in honor of the student. There have been three tragic deaths in the three years I’ve been here, but somehow its always the victims fault. In the days of the internet and the land of data seeking physicians, how can this remain such a secret? Keep pushing for change. We need it.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Yes, well-hidden. Sadly. Now times are changing and families plus progressive medical schools are beginning to honor victims and are beginning to tell the truth about the culture of medicine that often undermines the mental health of medical professionals. Listen to free audiobook of suicide survival stories from victims here. Also here are additional archives on medical student suicide & physician suicide.

  17. vanessa vogelsang says:

    Cheryl, I am so sorry to hear about your precious loss. My heart and mind feels so sad for you. I am happy that you want answers and want to help others. Lord, please bring overwhelming peace and comfort to Cheryl.Amen ?❤

  18. Bar Fly says:

    I’m guessing a psychologist would have something to say about a son killing himself on Mother’s day. He

  19. AB says:

    Our entire society censors anything but officially-sanctioned discussion about suicide, always from the same perspective of there-is-always-available-sufficient-professional-help. From mental health professionals to social media (Reddit…) even to online blogs and articles, you’re generally not allowed to talk about suicide. Unless, of course, it’s to sterilely plaster one of the many-many-many suicide hotline numbers online so that others can read the digits and the poster can feel they’ve done their part.

    And then we feign shock that, year after year, the national suicide rate INCREASES. We censor people when they’re telling us why they’re suicidal. Many of them have been through the mental health system over and over again without help. So of course they go elsewhere. Telling them, “You’re not allowed to talk about your own life experiences and the way you feel!” only makes the problem worse.

    I was suicidal when I was in medical school. The head of our medical school’s psychology department lied to me and told me that MANY other local community members were in my particular circumstance without feeling what I did. Even if that had been true, it wouldn’t have been helpful TO ME. But it simply wasn’t true–not given where I was in school. I won’t bore others with what happened after. But if we silence people as they’re talking about what they’re feeling, then we shouldn’t be surprised that they stop talking about it and, eventually, take matters into their own hands.

  20. Alison Smith says:

    Sounds familiar.

Click here to comment



Copyright © 2011-2024 Pamela Wible MD     All rights reserved worldwide     site design by Pamela Wible MD and