Through its Surgeon Well-Being program, the American College of Surgeons (ACS) is working to build awareness about suicide during September, which is National Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month. During September, ACS is releasing several communications for its members that are aimed to inform and engage health professionals and the public about suicide prevention and the warning signs of suicide. Additionally, National Suicide Prevention Week (NSPW) is September 5-11, World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, and Physician Suicide Awareness Day, September 17.
By drawing attention to the problem in the United States, the ACS peer-focused campaign strives to reduce stigma surrounding the topic, as well as encourage the pursuit of mental health assistance and support surgeons and other medical professionals who have attempted suicide. The College has called on its membership to learn the warning signs of suicide and commit to having difficult conversations with their peers if warranted.
In an August 30 member communication, the ACS states: “Creating a safe, vulnerable, and trusted space to talk about suicide and recognizing the signs and symptoms that can lead to suicidal ideation and death by suicide are two key steps in helping to prevent an irrevocable act.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, in 2019: suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of over 47,500 people. It is especially common among young people: suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals aged 10 to 34 and fourth among individuals between 35 and 44. Moreover, there are nearly two and half times as many suicides (47,511) in the United States as there are homicides (19,141). [SOURCE]
The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illnesses. During the pandemic, 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. [SOURCE] As the pandemic wears on, ongoing and necessary public health measures expose many people to experiencing situations linked to poor mental health outcomes. These factors make suicide awareness prevention especially important.
Physicians have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession. Nearly 1 in 4 physicians know a physician who has died by suicide. It’s estimated that one million Americans lose their physician to suicide each year. [SOURCE]
ACS is emphasizing Physician Suicide Awareness Day, September 17, in order to destigmatize seeking assistance for mental health among physicians. However, throughout the entire month of September, ACS will release a series of recorded lectures and stories in its Bulletin Brief membership newsletter.
There is a significant stigma surrounding mental health and seeking help. Many medical systems lack support for physicians coping with stress and traumatic events and administrative and regulatory burdens take away from the joy of practicing medicine.
The first video message, released September 3, can be viewed here. In this video, Maria Oquendo, MD, Ph.D., discusses suicide prevention in light of the awareness efforts being put forth during September, and on September 17 National Physician Suicide Awareness Day. Dr. Oquendo, who is Ruth Meltzer Professor of Psychiatry and psychiatrist-in-chief, University of Pennsylvania Health System, recommends information and resources available from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://afsp.org/.
Other video messages this month will be delivered by those who have lost a physician-spouse to this tragedy.