Suicide Awareness Month: The issue of suicide among health workers has become a global concern in recent years

September 2023
Statistics from the American Psychiatric Association (2018) reveal that healthcare professionals, who save lives, tragically take their own lives at rates two to four times higher than those in other professions. According to a survey conducted by the Physicians Foundation in the USA, a staggering 55% of health workers reported knowing a colleague who had contemplated or taken their own life, either through attempted suicide or actual suicide.

Studies examining the relationship between suicide and occupation have consistently identified health workers as being at the highest risk among 55 different professions. While suicide traditionally presents as more of a male problem, in Australia, female health workers experience a suicide rate 2.5 times higher than their counterparts in other professions.

Regrettably, such comprehensive studies have not been conducted in Ukraine, leaving us without specific statistics on suicides among health workers or the general population. Nevertheless, the burdens faced by our health workers today are heavier than those faced by their counterparts in countries without ongoing conflicts. This is particularly true for those medical professionals on the frontlines, working in hospitals, or experiencing occupation or captivity. During a conversation with a doctor from a previously occupied area, I was deeply moved by their admission that the most challenging moments occurred not during shelling, but when they were unable to save lives despite their skills and knowledge. The emotional toll from such experiences lingers.

The reasons that might lead Ukrainian health workers to contemplate suicide can be categorized into two main groups: universal factors, which have been exacerbated by the ongoing conflict, and those specific to their profession. Among the professional factors are the high level of responsibility, which inherently increases the risk of encountering difficult situations; excessive workloads, often due to a shortage of personnel and inefficient work organization; inadequate protection in the event of medical errors; isolation and alienation from both management and colleagues in case of legal prosecution; challenges arising from excessive digitization of medical practices, particularly for older generations; and the overwhelming volume of administrative tasks. The fear of potential job cuts as part of efforts to streamline healthcare institutions and strained relations with administration also contribute to their distress. Furthermore, the declining public image of the medical profession, offensive rhetoric in the media, and a sense of guilt towards patients whom they could not save add to their emotional burden.

These factors collectively amplify stress, diminish job satisfaction and social standing, and can lead to the development of depression. Seeking professional help becomes challenging due to systemic issues within Ukraine's mental healthcare system, as highlighted in a recent study within the "We act for health" project. The mental health care system lacks continuity and systematic service provision tailored to the needs of different groups, and mistrust regarding the preservation of medical confidentiality often deters health workers from seeking help or causes them to postpone it.

The President of Ukraine consistently emphasizes the value of every defender's life and every citizen's life in the country. It is of utmost importance that we work collectively to prevent the loss of our health workers' lives to suicide, ensuring that they are not added to the tragic toll of victims resulting from military operations.

Source: Dzerkalo tyzhnia
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