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Why Are Psychologists at Greater Risk of Suicide?

... and how can we help those who help us?

Key points

  • Psychologists are at greater risk of dying by suicide, and the rates may be increasing.
  • There are factors unique to psychologists that contribute to suicide, including the burden of managing care for vulnerable individuals.
  • There are steps we can take to address these professional challenges and reduce suicide among psychologists.
Alex Green/Pexels
Alex Green/Pexels

It’s Psychology Month, a time to celebrate the field, its history, its growth, and its practitioners. However, it would be remiss to discuss the value of psychologists without also acknowledging the concerning rates of suicide among them.

Psychologists play an important role in normalizing mental health issues and advocating for evidence-based assessment and therapy, but their knowledge of disorders does not make them immune and their ability to treat others does not make them invincible. Psychologists need and deserve the same quality of care they provide.

The Link Between Psychologists and Suicide

A significant body of research shows that health professionals in general are at an elevated risk of death by suicide, but research on the risk of suicide in psychologists specifically is limited and mixed. However, most research does indicate that suicide is a problem among psychologists. Some past findings include:

  • Older data suggest that more than 1 in 4 psychologists have felt suicidal: A 1994 sample of 800 psychologists found that most had received therapy themselves. Of the psychologists who had received therapy, 61 percent reported a history of clinical depression, 29 percent reported a history of suicidal ideation, and 4 percent reported a suicide attempt.
  • Rates may be increasing over time: Compared to the 1994 study, a 2002 sample of 1000 psychologists found that 62 percent of respondents were depressed, and 42 percent of that depressed population experienced suicidal ideas or behaviour.
  • Professional stressors often contribute to psychologists feeling suicidal: A 2009 survey found that 40 to 60 percent of responding psychologists reported disruption in their professional functioning because of burnout, anxiety, or depression, and 18 percent reported suicidal ideation while dealing with personal and professional stressors or challenges.
  • Psychologists may have the fourth highest rate of suicide among health professions: In a sample of 4,733 suicides across various health professions from 2003-2018 psychologists had the fourth highest rate of suicide.

Several factors unique to the field may contribute to suicide in psychologists—including the challenging, intimate, and confidential client-practitioner relationship; the responsibility of managing care for vulnerable individuals; dealing with negative client behaviours such as aggression or suicide potential; and the need to rapidly shift tactics between clients. Psychologists are also no less susceptible than non-mental health professionals to general risk factors of suicide such as mental disorders, illness, isolation, family conflict, hopelessness, or impulsivity.

There are also additional barriers that psychologists face when accessing help—such as fear of damaging their professional reputation, confidentiality concerns, denial or minimization of their own mental health concerns, and lack of time due to the demanding nature of the job. Clients of psychologists who have died by suicide report concerns about guilt for the psychologists’ death, the reliability of therapists, and the value of psychological therapy. Bearing the responsibility for not only yourself but also your clients and psychology as a whole can be an overwhelming weight.

Preventing Suicide Among Psychologists

Preventing death by suicide among psychologists is an admirable but perhaps impossible goal. Being a psychologist brings its own set of challenges that deserve to be acknowledged and addressed. Yet we may be able to reduce suicide among psychologists by taking preventative measures, such as:

  • Increasing awareness that depression, anxiety, and suicide are indiscriminate and can affect mental health professionals.
  • Reducing the barriers preventing mental health intervention for psychologists.
  • Implementing supports for psychologists struggling with straining client-practitioner relationships.
  • Increasing psychologists’ awareness of resources available to them.

Psychologists and psychology are worth celebrating and advocating for. Happy Psychology Month!

If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, seek help immediately. For help 24/7 in the U.S., dial 988 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. Outside of the U.S., visit the International Resources page for suicide hotlines in your country. To find a therapist near you, see the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


APA Practice Research & Policy Staff. (2010, August 31). Survey findings emphasize the importance of self care for psychologists. American Psychological Association Services.

DeAngelis, T. (2011, November 1). Psychologist suicide. Monitor on Psychology, 42(10).

Gilroy, P. J., Carroll, L., & Murra, J. (2002). A preliminary survey of counseling psychologists' personal experiences with depression and treatment. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33(4), 402–407.

Kleespies, P. M., Van Orden, K. A., Bongar, B., Bridgeman, D., Bufka, L. F., Galper, D.I., Hillbrand, M., & Yufit, R.I. (2011). Psychologist suicide: Incidence, impact, and suggestions for prevention, intervention, and postvention. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 42(3), 244-251.

Li, T., Petrik, M. L., Freese, R. L., & Robiner, W. N. (2022). Suicides of psychologists and other health professionals: National Violent Death Reporting System data, 2003–2018. American Psychologist, 77(4), 551–564.

Pope, K. S., & Tabachnick, B. G. (1994). Therapists as patients: A national survey of psychologists' experiences, problems, and beliefs. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 25(3), 247–258.

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