LEFO - Legeforskningsinstituttet

Institute for Studies of the Medical Profession

Doktoravhandlinger - PhD theses

Suicidal behaviour in some human occupations with special emphasis on physicians and police. A nationwide study

Hem E. Selvmordsatferd i menneskebehandlende profesjoner. Doktoravhandling. Oslo: Det medisinske fakultet, Universitetet i Oslo, 2004.
9. februar 2012

Doctor´s degree in English - to read the dissertation follow the link.

Abstract:
Background: Only a small proportion of the large number of occupations have been the subject of empirical research on suicidal behaviour (suicidal ideation, suicide attempt and suicide). The largest number of studies has been conducted among physicians. Claims of high suicide rates among physicians have been made for decades. However, research on the incidence of suicide among physicians is marked by considerable debate. Comparisons between studies have often been difficult because of different methodologies, cultural differences, the quality of suicide statistics, etc. Suicidal behaviour in a specific occupation is supposed to be a result of a complex interaction between job factors such as work-related stress, access to suicide means, presence of mental disorders and self-selection by vulnerable individuals.
Research questions: The present study focuses on suicidal behaviour among physicians and police in Norway, but includes the human service occupations of dentists, nurses and theologians. The thesis tries to answer five main research questions.
· What is the prevalence of suicidal behaviour among physicians and police? (Papers I and II)
· What are the predictors of suicide planning among physicians and police? (Papers I and II)
· What are the predictors among medical students of suicide planning in the first postgraduate years, and what are the predictors that promote the transition from suicidal thoughts to suicide planning among young physicians? (Paper III)
· What is the level of suicide risk for police compared to that for the general population or other groups reported in the international research literature? (Paper IV)
· What is the suicide rate among physicians, police, nurses, dentists and theologians compared with that among graduates and the general population in Norway 1960-2000? (Paper V)
Material and methods: The thesis consists of five papers; four papers describe results from empirical studies and one paper is a literature review on suicide among police. First, the prevalence of and predictors for suicidal behaviour were explored in a nationwide sample of Norwegian physicians in 1993 (N = 1,064). Second, the prevalence of and predictors for suicidal behaviour were explored in a nationwide sample of Norwegian police in 2000 (N = 3,272). Third, members of a nationwide cohort of Norwegian medical students (N = 631) were approached initially in their final semester, and then again in their first and fourth postgraduate years in order to identify predictors of postgraduate suicide planning at medical school and to explore the transition from suicidal thoughts to suicide planning over three to four years. Finally, a register-based study explored the suicide rates among physicians and four other human service occupations compared with those for graduates and the general population during the years 1960-2000.

Results: The self-reported lifetime prevalence of suicide planning was 10.4% among physicians and 6.4% among police, whereas the last-year prevalence for each was 2.6% and 1.7%, respectively. The self-reported lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts was 1.6% and 0.7%, respectively, while the last-year prevalence was 0.3% and 0.1%, respectively.
Predictors of suicide planning among physicians were being female, living alone, sick leave due to depression, subjective health complaints and being a specialist in anaesthesiology. The independent predictors of suicide planning among police were anxiety and depression, living alone, subjective health complaints and reality weakness personality trait. Suicide planning was mainly attributed to personal and family problems in both groups, and to a lesser extent to social, work-related or other problems. There were no gender differences among physicians. Among police, however, male police rated work problems significantly higher in importance than females, whereas female police considered personal and social problems to impact more significantly on suicide planning than male police.
In the postgraduate years, 6% reported suicide planning within the last year. Adjusted predictors in their final semester at medical school were vulnerability trait (neuroticism), severe depressive symptoms, and negative life events. Among those having previous suicidal thoughts in their final semester of study, 8% reported suicide planning in their first and fourth postgraduate years. Adjusted predictors of transition from thoughts to planning were reality weakness trait, severe depressive symptoms and a low level of perceived medical school-related stress. Thus, common predictors for both postgraduate suicide planning and transition from thoughts to planning were depressive symptoms and personality traits. A minority had sought professional care.
The suicide rate among physicians in Norway was raised during the period 1960-2000. Although the suicide rate was significantly lower among male physicians in the 1990s than the 1980s, the rate was still higher than among other graduates and the general population. The suicide rate increased with age among physicians and other graduates, but not among non-graduates. The suicide rate among female nurses was also elevated, whereas police seemed to have an intermediate suicide risk, which is in accordance with the results of the literature review. The suicide rate among theologians was low.
Conclusions: The prevalence of suicide attempts among physicians and police is low. Moreover, the suicide rate among physicians is relatively high, while the rate among police seems to be average. This implies that physicians do not cry for help, but are inclined to act out their suicidal ideation. The reality weakness personality trait was identified as the most decisive trait for aggravation in suicidal ideation among medical students, and an independent predictor for suicide planning among police, probably due to its relation to personality disorders. Another novel finding was that subjective health complaints were independent predictors of suicide planning among both police and physicians. Elderly graduates may be another group of particular concern.