At least once a year we make an appointment to go see a Doctor for medical advice in order to improve our health. But have you ever thought about the health of your own Doctor? The fact is, doctors are more prone to mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, than any other profession. According to Insight, an SBS report in 2017 investigated doctors’ mental health status and discovered that suicide rates were disproportionately higher. Mental illness was also common for the majority of doctors and other working health professionals. Particularly, junior doctors are more likely to experience mental health issues compared to senior doctors. Perhaps this is due to the fact that enduring a five-year degree takes an incredible toll on students, not to mention the struggles and emotional damage that can result from attempting to get into a course. Or perhaps it’s the mountain of HECS debt that lurks behind their ten-hour shift. Despite all of this, the main problem is is that the burnout rate of doctors is becoming a global epidemic.
Beyond Blue is a non-government funded organisation (NGO) mental health organisation that has heavily influenced and changed society’s perception of mental illnesses. Beyond Blue’s continuous efforts with various communities and professions have heavily affected the way we talk and think about mental health by opening up discussions. However, it takes more than an NGO to change the mental state of a GP. According to Beyond Blue, 21% of doctors have reportedly been diagnosed with or treated for depression and 6% remain with a current diagnosis. And if that wasn’t frightening enough, 396 health professionals took their own lives between the years 2011 and 2012 in Australia. From 2007 and 2016, 20 health practitioners took their own lives in New South Wales alone. Beyond Blue has undertaken extensive research to further expand their knowledge on mental health. A survey they conducted of more than 12, 000 doctors back in 2013 found junior doctors cited very high levels of psychological distress compared to their senior colleagues. In 2009, Medical Journal of Australia revealed that 71% of junior doctors in Australia were concerned just as concerned about their own mental health and wellbeing as their physical health. But having a concern is not enough, just like words without actions are useless, right?
So, why is this a big issue? Apart from mental health being a public health concern for everyone, it is especially dangerous for doctors and health professionals whose role is to provide the best health advice to others. GP burnout rates stand as an occupational and individual risk factor. Furthermore, it can be complex and tricky to grasp the idea that a doctor is now becoming the patient. Often, doctors may feel ashamed or even embarrassed to seek help, since they are health professionals themselves. As a result, doctors opt for self-treatment or seek informal care from a colleague, which poses a safety risk not only to themselves but to their patients.
So why is this happening? You would think that choosing a career path that is not only rewarding but financially stable and in demand would increase happiness and mental wellbeing. Well, historically speaking, the medical professional culture has always encouraged doctors to sacrifice their own health, by working long hours and taking work home to prolong exhaustion. Ultimately, doctors put the health and needs of their patients before their own. Doctors are unlikely to seek help for fear of the consequences it may have on their work. For example, patient’s may wish to see other doctors, or the hospital board may believe the doctor is no longer fit to administer procedures or give health advice. Apart from this, there is also the anxiety of social stigma, particularly on a personal level. Doctors may not want close friends and family members to find out.
To prevent GP burnout rates and to decrease the likelihood of mental illnesses amongst doctors and other health professionals, there has been a rollout of National Laws which requires all health professionals to report to one another on a regular basis, particularly in times when a practitioner is placed with major public responsibilities or personal stressors. Doctors who seek help and prioritise their mental health make fewer mistakes and are able to solve patient’s problems faster.