“If we learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that there is a breaking point for health professionals,” said corresponding author Prof. Kelly C. Lee, PharmD at UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
The study identified the most common means of suicide in this population, with 49.8 percent of cases involving firearms, 29.4 percent involving poisoning, and 13 percent involving suffocation. The use of firearms was similar between pharmacists and the general population, but poisoning via benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and opioids was more frequent among pharmacists.
Suicide Risk Among Pharmacists
For pharmacists, Lee said job problems reflect significant changes in the industry in recent years, with more pharmacists employed by hospitals and chain retailers than small, private pharmacies more common in the past. The responsibilities of a pharmacist have also grown considerably, with larger volumes of pharmaceuticals to dispense and increasing demands to administer vaccines and other health care services.
“Pharmacists have many more responsibilities now, but are expected to do them with the same resources and compensation they had 20 years ago,” said Lee. “And with strict monitoring from state and federal regulatory boards, pharmacists are expected to perform in a fast-paced environment with perfect accuracy. It’s difficult for any human to keep up with that pressure.”
Future research will further evaluate which job problems have the biggest impact and how the field can better respond. In the meantime, Lee advised pharmacists to encourage help-seeking behaviors amongst themselves and their colleagues.
“Mental health is still highly stigmatized, and often even more so among health professionals,” said Lee. “Even though we should know better, there is such an expectation to appear strong, capable and reliable in our roles that we struggle to admit any vulnerabilities. It’s time to take a look at what our jobs are doing to us and how we can better support each other, or we are going to lose our best pharmacists.”