ACP releases physician suicide prevention guidance

The paper also addresses the role of a healing community from an ethics perspective.

The American College of Physicians (ACP) is offering guidance on preventing physician suicides and what the role of a healing community should be from an ethics perspective.

According to a news release, the paper, titled “Physician Suicide Prevention and the Ethics and Role of a Healing Community: An American College of Physicians Policy Paper,” was developed by the ACP’s Ethics, Professionalism, and Human Rights Committee as suicide becomes a major global public health issue and the increased recognition of physician suicide.

“Like patients, physicians need to be supported by a healing community and the response to anyone who dies by suicide should be characterized by respect and concern,” George M. Abraham, MD, MPH, FACP, president of ACP, says in the release. “ACP supports the need for education, screening, and access to mental health treatment, beginning at the earliest stages of medical training.”

The paper looks at the issues that come up when both individuals and institutions attempt to respond to physician suicides and when they engage in broader efforts aimed at preventing them. The topics addressed in the paper include:

  • Improved, but sensitive data collection surrounding physician suicide among medical students, residents, fellows, and practicing or non-practicing doctors.
  • Calling for physicians to respond compassionately and communicate thoughtfully in a transparent and confidential manner.
  • Learning from experience and closing the knowledge gap around the causes of physician suicide and implementing efforts to prevent future suicides.
  • Calls for the healthcare community to reduce stigma and acknowledge grief, support its members in a safe environment, and better develop interventions and preventive actions.
  • How to address the unique environment and stressors that arise while training for medical students and postgraduate trainees.
  • Further study of the relationship between burnout, depression, and suicidality.

“The medical community’s commitment to foundational ethical principles and professional values, including the duty to care for the ill, shared accountability, respect for privacy and confidentiality, and transparent and honest communication can help transform it into a true healing community that also encourages self-care and physicians caring for one another,” Abraham says.