An article was published this weekend in the Sydney Morning Herald by an anonymous Sydney junior doctor who told of 3 medical colleagues who have committed suicide. The doctor describes the situation of unaddressed mental health issues affecting doctors as medicine’s 'dark secret'. Various international, national and Queensland-based research has examined doctor suicide rates in comparison to the general population, confirming that medical professionals - especially female doctors - are at higher risk. And work-related problems are most commonly associated.
The Beyond Blue National Mental Health Survey of 14,000 doctors and medical students found that although levels of mental distress was high, a large proportion of those affected do seek and receive help, and for them the subsequent impact of stress on work and home life was relatively modest. So seeking help does work.
The transition period as Interns from study to work is recognised as a particularly stressful time, and is associated with more distress and burnout than later career life. Unfortunately, stigmatism persists with 40% of those surveyed believing that individuals affected by mental health issues were perceived to be less competent.
So what does this mean for junior and senior doctors?
- We must acknowledge that this is not just about doctors currently on the brink of contemplating suicide - we need to work on support structures so that it doesn’t reach that point, and help everyone deal with workplace pressures.
- Hospitals need to address environments that place unreasonable stress on all staff.
- Despite having highly stressful jobs and heavy workloads, doctors are resilient - we need to build on this resilience, talk about what exactly this looks like on a day-to-day basis. This conversation needs to include both junior doctors and their supervisors. I will write more about medical resilience soon.
- Recognise that we all own this. Hospital managers and medical administrators can only do so much about workplace culture. How we speak and deal with each other, how we support one another and make time for our own self-care is so very important.
- Know that you are not alone. There are ways to reach help and we need to encourage our colleagues to access them. If they don't know who to reach out to, then we need to help them talk to a friend, mentor or trusted supervisor who can assist. Be that person who makes a difference in someone else's life.
- Medical leadership teams at hospitals throughout the country need to be talking about these issues and working out how they can bring about genuine change.
Today I wrote to our Interns about these issues - together we as a profession need to find a way to move the culture in medicine to something more wholesome and compassionate.
If you need urgent help:
Lifeline: 131 114
MensLine: 1300 789 978
beyondblue: 1300 22 4636
If you think this is important, join the positive leadership movement and talk about these issues. Share/like on social media, so others know you believe in it and the word spreads. Be the difference you want to see in our health care system.