Dentists Are Prone To Suicide: How’s Their Mental Health?

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Suicide is, unfortunately, an all too common thing. Over 800,000 people reportedly die by their hand on an annual basis, and that does not even account for the people who’ve only gone as far as attempting it. Suicide rates cover a range of professions, and research has shown that dentists, in particular, appear to be relatively more prone to suicide than any other healthcare professionals. The problem is that, they don’t want to be “scrutinized” by a therapist and so, they keep quiet.

Franklin Niver, a Californian dentist, knows three colleagues who have committed suicide. The tenth volume of the American Dental Journal in 1911 lists a total of ten dentists in their “In Memoriam” section. Only three were officially ruled as suicides—one was said to have had a “nervous collapse due to overwork,” while another apparently “accidentally killed himself while wiping the revolver.” However, the pertinence of this account to present-day studies is dubious, given it was recorded one whole century ago. More recent research would put forward a more concrete impression. That’s why I took to interviewing a total of ten dentists for this article and to my findings, eight of them had a colleague who had taken their own life.

My curiosity piqued, I began my investigation into the age-old claim that dentists are notably more suicide-prone than the rest of the community. Is it indeed based on facts? Or is it purely a misconception? As it so happened, each dentist I spoke with was familiar with the idea. One dentist, Dr. O, shared, “The first thing people will say is when I tell them I am a dentist is ‘Oh! Dentists do have the highest suicide tendency rate!”.

 

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After weeks of scouring through dental journals and from a hundred years ago, I could only say that that statement was inconclusive at best. CDC’s latest report on professions with the highest suicide rates was released in 2012, which listed fishermen, farmers and forestry workers to have the highest estimated risk. Dentists were positioned at number 12. However, the CDC’s of National Occupational Mortality Surveillance from the year 1999 to the year 2010  divulged that dentists rate were 2.5 more times as likely to commit suicide as part of the general public, whereas the aforementioned farmers, fishers, and forest workers were only reported to be 0.9 times more likely. The inconsistency in records could have been due to a reduction in suicide rates by dentists or possibly due to unreliable research.

Middle-aged white men hold the highest suicide rate in America, which is consistent with the observed elevated rates of dentists that are male Caucasians. A criminal justice professor at Wayne State University, Steven Stack, had also observed this statistic and investigated the direct link between dentistry and suicide. He conducted a study in 1996 that concluded being a dentist increased one’s rate by 564 percent. On the contrary, a study by the CDC in 2012 disclosed that dentists and were 80 percent less likely to commit suicide than people of other professions.

It is nearly impossible to pinpoint the major cause behind suicides in dentists. Unless a suicide note with an indicated reason was left behind, we could not determine what drove them to take their own life. However, evidence would point to occupational stress as a probable reason. This leads to some factors of suicide, such as depression, substance abuse, and marital problems. As for the dentists I’ve interviewed, they were quite satisfied with their jobs, but they did confirm that the job puts them under considerable stress. A few negative points mentioned were financial trouble, isolation, and the public’s unfavorable perception of their profession.

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According to the American Dental Association, the majority of dental students that graduated in 2016 were at the very least 100,000 dollars in debt. That doesn’t even include the costs for setting up your practice, such as buying equipment or obtaining office space. Expenses could possibly reach up to a whopping one million dollars.

There’s also the fact that dentistry is quite a physically grueling job. It is not uncommon for dentists to suffer from severe back, neck, and shoulder pain due to the uncomfortable position they have to stay in a while working. “It can be very physically taxing,” Dr. O says. “ … Even though you are not lifting the heavy weights all day long, it does take much toll on the body.”

CDC lists isolation as another risk factor, which comes hand-in-hand with emotional stress. Dentists have an unfortunate reputation as people who inflict pain, making it challenging to establish a rapport with their patients.

It remains indeterminate if dentists do indeed have higher suicidal tendencies compared to other professionals, but the statistics, as well as the recorded evidence supporting this notion, speaks volumes.

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