As a physician who has faced suicide – both in my patients when I was a psychiatrist, and in myself when I faced “losing everything” – I have been in dark places. I survived, and there is so much that I have learned since that time. It would be remiss of me not to share these lessons with any colleague (or anyone) who has started to think that their own death makes sense. So, it is my privilege to share with you this note to the suicidal doctor.
In the warm light of morning, it is almost unbelievable to consider how dark and desperate my thoughts were. All I wanted was for the pain to end.
But at the time, my cognitive ability (which I could usually rely on) and my support mechanisms felt like they had shut down.
My ability to see other options, or even a future at all, was impaired.
There was no way I should have been seeing patients – but, I thought, “the hospital and my patients need me”.
Trigger warning: This article discusses my own experience of suicidal ideation and planning. If I had not survived I would not be here to share it. I am grateful to all those who helped me get from there to here.
If you are having thoughts of wanting to end your life,
please first call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
1-800-273-8255 or call 911 if in imminent danger.
As we have previously posted, an estimated 300-400 physicians end their lives by suicide a year in the US alone.
These numbers do even begin to address the personal tragedy, the impact on their loved ones, colleagues, and patients; and just how much these colleagues must have suffered to consider that death was the best option at the time.
So I have to write this note to the suicidal doctor in the hopes that maybe one life trajectory can be changed.
My dear MD friend,
I have been where you are now. I feel your pain. I write to you, the suicidal doctor, because this helped me 3 years ago.
Three years ago I had saved up a load of medications, worked out the correct cocktail including CYP450 inhibitors, found a location, checked my life insurance small print, and written notes to my wife and children.
I am a trained medical doctor with extensive knowledge of pharmacology, toxicology, the altering of physiology, life, and death. To understand this we must learn how life can so easily end in order to save it.
This knowledge is extremely powerful and dangerous and should never be used for ending a life, including your own.
Back then I saw no way out, and my death would have solved any number of problems. This was my (distorted) thinking:
Can you see how messed up this thinking was?
I thank my Higher Power that the day before D-day I phoned a fellow addict who was in recovery for decades and who became a mentor and friend.
I owe my life to this man, antidepressants, and my 12-step anonymous fellowship.
These 3 forces for good helped me to gain another perspective on each of these distorted cognitions, and decide to live:
“A life insurance pay-out (or so I thought).”
My friend asked me, “Do you think they will pay out? All of them exclude suicide. Even if you try and make it look like an accident they will try and get out of it – and you won’t be there to explain it to them and make them pay up.”
Insurers are bastards, he said.
His next sentence hit me square in the solar plexus: “Which do you think your kids would rather have: an insurance pay-out or an alive Dad?”
“Protecting my family (or so I thought) from shame and stigma of what I had done in my addiction and depression.”
My suicide would not protect them, it would devastate them like a tsunami.
My wife, soon afterwards, asked: “How will I explain to the kids that their Dad didn’t love them enough to stay alive?”
“The legal and licensing consequences of my addiction would have gone away and my name would have been protected, albeit in a book of life cut short.”
While the legal investigation may have stopped, the questions would not. And no-one would be able to answer them. This leaves yawning gap in our loved one’s lives which can never, ever, be filled.
Please don’t blast a hole in the lives of people you love and who love you more than you can realize right now.
“It would end the pain, and ‘my kids would get over it’”.
I’ve heard this one so often in my suicidal patients and I recoiled every time because it’s so insidious and just plain wrong. I recalled my other patients who had lost a parent to suicide: they never fully recovered. It would cause far more emotional pain than carrying on fighting on, one day, one hour, one minute at a time.
Not only that, but suicide carries its own stigma, and I would have given them a burden for the rest of their lives. They may blame themselves as kids so often do, and wonder whether they could have “saved” me.
Friend, my near-death experience has transformed me.
Would that you choose life, too.
From a nearly fatal point of emotional weakness, I have recovered with therapy, medication, and the non-judgemental support of my peers and colleagues. The love of my family and friends never wavered, but I was unable to feel that love while in the depths.
I am now stronger than before, wiser, and more self-aware. I’m actually happier than in a very long time.
I now get to help suffering physicians every day through Physicians Anonymous. I get to advocate for change to reduce barriers to care and change the systemic toxicity leading to so much doctor distress.
I get to instill hope that “this too shall pass” and “there are more options than you can believe for a life of joy”.
I get to write notes like this to the suicidal doctor.
I urge you to stop planning to harm yourself and, by the shockwaves, those who love you.
If you are like me, your thinking is skewed, and your choices are artificially narrowed.
We cannot see the future and all the joy that this will bring.
Rather than end your life, please get help. Please speak to someone – anyone – who you trust.
Talk to your family doctor, or phone your Employee Assistance Program. Call the suicide prevention lines below.
There are any number of treatments that really work, from just being heard, to therapy, to medication. Antidepressants work. I still take mine. New treatments for our darkest place, that of suicidal intent, are being found all the time, like Ketamine infusions and short-term opioids.
Once you get through this, there is so much good you can do in the world. There is so much joy to be had.
Please use your skills to help others in future, one day, when you are better.
It will be sooner than you think.
With love and respect,
Dr Corrigan MD
Support Line (US only)
Click here or call:
1 (888) 409-0141
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No appointment necessary.
Available 7 days a week.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
If you are having thoughts of wanting to end your life,
please first call the
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
or call 911 if in imminent danger.