Despairing doctors
Professional stress and suicide
in Medical misadventure in an age of professionalisation, 1780–1890
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Mortality among the members of the nineteenth-century medical profession was high in relation to other professions and to non-professional occupations. This chapter examines the role and visibility of the inquest in determining acts of suicide in nineteenth-century England and Wales. It then looks in more detail at the 285 medical deaths investigated or reported as suicides between 1800 and 1890, with particular reference to the behavioural patterns, methods, and motives that emerged in inquest evidence. The chapter concludes with the case of William Whitfield Edwardes, whose suicide in 1883 generated intense social commentary and presented the consolidating medical profession with a quintessential dilemma. The generation of exceptionally high expectations within the profession about the acceptance and management of stress make practitioner suicide entirely comprehensible and even predictable. Narrative motifs in reporting suicides co-opted the language of shock, tragedy, pity, and melancholy rather than the available alternatives for framing a suicide.


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