Chicago, Jan 18 (Agencies): A study suggests that surgeons contemplate suicide at a greater rate compared to general public and they are much less likely to seek help. Medical errors, job burnout and depression trigger this thought for them.

Fear of losing their jobs contributes to surgeons' reluctance to get mental health treatment, according to the study. Nearly 8,000 surgeons participated.

About six per cent reported recent suicidal thoughts; the rate was 16 per cent among those who'd made a recent major medical error although it wasn't known if that was the reason.

Only about one-fourth of those with suicidal thoughts said they'd sought professional mental health. By contrast, among the general population, about three per cent have suicidal thoughts and 44 per cent of them seek mental health treatment, other studies have shown.

"Surgeons reported a great deal of concern about potential repercussions for their license to practice medicine," and many admitted self-medicating with antidepressant drugs, said lead author Dr Tait Shanafelt of the Mayo Clinic.

Arkansas Dr Robert Lehmberg, 63, said it took prodding from close friends to finally get him to seek treatment for depression and suicidal thoughts several years ago. Though he feared losing his license and being stigmatized, neither happened, and he said medication and psychotherapy have greatly helped.

Working 60 to 80 hours weekly in a busy Little Rock, Arkansas plastic surgery office contributed to his depression, but Lehmberg said he was careful to avoid medical errors.

"Surgeons are taught that the patient is their responsibility, period. So absolutely, if something goes wrong, the surgeons I know take it very personally," Lehmberg said. He was not involved in the study. Lehmberg now works in palliative care, helping ease suffering in dying patients.

The study appears in the January issue of Archives of Surgery. It was commissioned by the American College of Surgeons and surveyed members of that group by e-mail. Answers were anonymous.

Surgeons were questioned about whether they'd had suicidal thoughts within the past year. They weren't asked about suicide attempts but the authors said as many as 50 per cent of people who think about suicide also make an attempt.

The research didn't address specific reasons why they had contemplated suicide but strongly suggests depression, job burnout and medical errors were contributing factors. To a lesser extent, being unmarried, divorced and childless also was linked with contemplating suicide. Other factors also could have contributed to a risk for suicidal thoughts.