The death of Northland anaesthetist Dr Richard Harding in 2017 reflects tragic statistics about the stresses of the job, according to the coroner.
Harding, who was employed at Whangārei Hospital as a consultant in the Intensive Care Unit and Anaesthesia Department from mid-2016, died at his Whangārei home on October 23, 2017, after moving to New Zealand from the United Kingdom with his wife, Kate, and two children.
Coroner Katharine Greig, who released a report on Harding's death in July, deemed it a suicide, which she said "highlighted a constellation of factors that likely played a role in his decision to take his life, many of which were associated with his work".
However, Greig clearly stated it was not meant as a criticism of Harding's role at Whangārei Hospital, but rather an observation of the "systemic environment" in which intensivists and anaesthetists work.
"These highly-trained senior health professionals work in specialised and high-stress environments in which life and death decisions are part and parcel of their working days as is the risk of long hours and sleep disruption," the report said.
Greig's report cited research from NHS Practitioner Health which stated mental illness was common among doctors with about 25 per cent at risk.
" ... suicide rates are between two and four times those of other professional groups, and in some specialities, there appears to be increased risk," the report said.
The report also said the culture of medicine was not generally supportive, with stigma and prejudice exacerbating mental health conditions.
The report detailed how during the time of Harding's move from England, his mood started to dip. Prior to his departure, Harding was investigated by the General Medical Council (GMC) in England after a complaint was lodged against him.
Harding was cleared by the GMC of any wrongdoing, however, the coroner's report described how Kate Harding believed the incident had caused significant stress for her husband.
Professing thoughts of self-harm and depression, Harding went through different courses of medication and while some medication had a positive impact on the doctor, he continued to show signs of depression before his death.
Northland DHB chief executive Dr Nick Chamberlain was aware the coroner's report had been published.
He reinforced the coroner's message that there was no criticism of Harding's role at Whangārei Hospital and said the doctor's passing was difficult for his DHB whānau.
"Richard's death was a very difficult time for many of us within Northland DHB," he said.
"We tried to provide every support to his wife and family at the time and extend our deepest sympathy to them."
Kate Harding, who has since moved back to the UK with her family, wrote in The Guardian about her husband's suicide in February, 2018. In the first-person piece, she described her family's journey during and after her husband's death.
"I can't begin to imagine how we are going to live without you, as it seems that we must. But we have made a start and I promise that we will do our best to keep going," she said.
"We miss you desperately. We miss infuriating you. We miss being loved by you."
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.