September 16, 2021

Wayne State physician pushes government to recognize Sept. 17 as National Physician Suicide Awareness Day

A Wayne State University School of Medicine physician is the driving force behind a push for the United States House of Representatives to designate Sept. 17 as National Physician Suicide Awareness Day.

Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine Luda Khait-Vlisides, M.D., brought to the forefront a resolution written by U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (Michigan's 11th District) on the topic to raise awareness, reduce the stigma of mental health issues and promote a national discussion about physician suicide. 

“Physician suicide happens more than we all think. By bringing awareness to this topic, by being open about this discussion, we can all erase the stigma that comes with seeking mental health help to prevent death by suicide,” Dr. Khait-Vlisides said.

The suicide rate among male physicians is 1.41 times higher than the general male population. Among female physicians, the relative risk is even more pronounced — 2.27 times greater than the general female population, per the 2004 American Journal of Psychiatry article "Suicide Rates Among Physicians: A Quantitative and Gender Assessment (Meta-Analysis)." 

Luda Khait-Vlisides, M.D.

The day is recognized in the field of emergency medicine, but not on a national level via government. Individuals are encouraged to use the hashtags #NPSADay and #YouAreNotAlone on Sept. 17.

Dr. Khait-Vlisides has been working closely with the CORD’s Resilience Committee, led by WSU’s Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine and Associate Dean for Graduate Medicine Education Anne Messman, M.D.

Dr. Khait-Vlisides is co-chair of the subcommittee in charge of getting the NPSA Day nationally recognized.

“In the few short months that Luda has been on this committee, she and her team have gotten a bipartisan national bill that will be presented to the House of Representatives,” Dr. Messman said.

In addition to supporting the goals of National Physician Suicide Awareness Day to bring national attention to the mental health crisis, the committee hopes the U.S. government will dedicate the day as one of reflection to honor the memory of physicians who have died by suicide; recognize the need for greater research into understanding and addressing the issue of physician suicide, including the barriers to treatment and mental care options to prevent clinician suicide; and encourage the president to issue a proclamation calling upon Americans to observe the day with appropriate awareness and educational activities.

“We have lost physicians to suicide for far too many years. It is finally time to start realizing that physicians are humans and suffer from mental health issues, just like any other diseases,” Dr. Khait-Vlisides said. “Physicians are almost taught to hide their mental health issues due to the stigma and possible practice repercussions – as a good number of states still require you to disclose any mental health diagnoses when applying for licensure. Physician burnout is real and needs to be addressed. This should have been relevant before the pandemic, but now needs to be addressed more than ever. It's time to erase the stigma of seeking mental health help for physicians.”

For more information on National Physician Suicide Awareness Day, visit https://www.cordem.org/events/NPSA/

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