Research — 15 November 2012

Depression Not for Profit, beyondblue, is about to launch a national survey described as a world-first project to assess the mental wellbeing of Australia’s doctors and medical students.

The organisation says the National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students will offer an unprecedented insight into the mental health of those who are on the frontline of treating people with conditions such as depression and anxiety.

“It comes amid growing concern about the impact of long hours and stressful working environments on doctors’ mental health,” beyondblue CEO Kate Carnell AO said.

The beyondblue initiative and will see more than half of Australia’s 80,000 doctors and 16,000 medical students – including every doctor in regional Australia – sent a mental health questionnaire in coming months to which they will be asked to respond anonymously.

“Over the next week a randomly selected batch of 1000 doctors and 1000 medical students across Australia will receive their questionnaires in the mail as part of the project’s pilot program,” Carnell said.

“This is the first time in the world that such a large portion of a country’s doctors will be surveyed on their mental health, with the pilot program to be assessed before the remaining randomly selected 40,000 doctors and 8,000 medical students receive their questionnaires in February.”

She said the survey’s final results would be used from mid-2013 to understand better the mental health of Australian doctors, increase community awareness of issues associated with their mental health and improve how doctors’ mental health problems are treated.

“To ensure Australia tackles depression and anxiety as well as it can, it is vital that we ensure the mental health of our doctors is as robust as possible,” she said. “This survey will show for the first time how Australian doctors are coping in their demanding jobs and offer invaluable insights into how we can support the critical work they do.

“Research indicates that stigma around doctors having mental health problems and a fear among them that their career will suffer if they admit to being unwell contributes to a reluctance to seek early help, compounding the problem. Doctors are good at looking after patient health, but they may not prioritise their own. This project will ensure all Australians are better placed to receive the best possible treatment for depression and anxiety.”

A 2010 literature review into doctors’ mental health commissioned by beyondblue and overseen by its Doctors’ Mental Health Program Advisory Committee, chaired by former AMA president Dr Mukesh Haikerwal AO, identified some barriers in the medical profession that stop doctors with depression and anxiety from seeking help.

It also found a large evidence gap around research into depression and anxiety among doctors, in areas ranging from prevalence to risk factors, with the lack of research into the mental health of doctors in regional Australia particularly concerning.

“The survey’s results will be used to help fill this evidence gap as well as devise strategies to improve doctors’ mental health. The findings will also build upon a range of recent research projects conducted by the medical profession into the mental health of doctors and medical students,” Carnell said.

A project advisory group consisting of some of Australia’s foremost mental health experts, including Monash University’s head of psychiatry Professor David Clarke as chair, has been established to oversee the development of the questionnaire and methodology for the survey.

As first appeared in Pro Bono Australia , 13 November 2012


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