Doctors & Suicide: How they deal with daily heartache

Posted at 10:36 PM, Oct 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-25 23:36:42-04

We turn to doctors to look after our health, make us better when we're sick and sometimes hope they can do the impossible.The weight of all the pressure they face is unimaginable, especially when someone they hope to cure is lost to their illness.

All that sadness pushes some to the point of taking their own life. Doctors are more than twice as likely to die by suicide than other professions and talking about the overwhelming aspects of the job was considered weak until more recent years.

Dr. Peter Johnson is the Director of Gynecological Oncology and Palliative Care at Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay. Most of his patients have very advanced terminal cancers and he spends a lot of time talking about bad news.

"Many times I'm the one that finds these cancers and actually determines that it's an incurable cancer," Dr. Johnson said.

Dr. Johnson says it takes a self-care regime of concentrating on peace and serenity and finding the good when surrounded by sadness. Sadly, Dr. Johnson says he has lost colleagues in the past to suicide, while others have retired early or changed professions.

Mary Sullivan is a volunteer with Prevent Suicide Fox Cities, and she says that "self-care" mentality is important with lots of stressful jobs. 

"It's very important to have self-care and a plan for yourself. What do you need to do for yourself everyday to take care of yourself," Sullivan said.

Dr. Johnson is choosing to focus on helping to make terminal patients comfortable and peaceful and not absorbing all the sadness when a treatment doesn't work.

"When I've done my best, I've done everything I know...I continue reading, learning new techniques, new ways of treating cancers, I've done everything I can and it still fails, that's not my fault," Johnson said.

Sullivan says middle-aged men are at the highest risk for suicide, but no matter who you are or your age or profession the most important thing is to start the conversation on suicide and mental illness.

If you are struggling with suicide or mental illness, here are some available resources:

Prevent Suicide Wisconsin

Brown County Coalition for Suicide Prevention

Wisconsin Suicide Hotlines

Center for Suicide Awareness