Junior doctors and medical students are most at risk of mental health problems, but experts say the entire profession is afflicted.
A Junior Doctor Conference held by the Australian Medical Association of Queensland in Brisbane over the weekend was told developing personal resilience along with changes to training practices, work hours and expectations were needed to improve doctors’ mental wellbeing.
Head of Child and Youth Mental Health at the Mater Hospital and Beyond Blue director Brett McDermott, who addressed the conference, said the mental health of medicos in general was “really quite poor”.
“About 30 per cent felt emotionally exhausted, there were quite high levels of cynicism, which is a measure of burn-out, and about 15 per cent didn’t feel professionally effective.”
Professor McDermott said Beyond Blue’s 2013 national mental health survey of 11,000 doctors and 1700 medical students found 25 per cent of them had experienced some form of suicidal thought, with 10 per cent experiencing such a thought in the 12 months prior to the survey.
“This is of grave concern, because don’t forget, doctors, of any group actually know to do it…they have the means and access to drugs,” he said.
Professor McDermott said medical students, young, female and indigenous doctors and those working in rural or remote regions felt the burden more.
According to the survey, 13 per cent of medical students were taking anti-depressants.
“A lot of medical students still felt the medical profession discriminated against doctors who were anxious and depressed… and wouldn’t get appointed to positions as readily as others,” he said.
“There was still some degree of stigma.”
Professor McDermott said positive steps were being taken, such as Beyond Blue’s national strategy on creating mentally healthy workplaces, and the first roundtable on the issue co-hosted held on June 12.
“Doctors need to have a mentally healthy workplace as much as any other group, arguably more,” he said.
“Obviously we’re looking at work hours, but also…relationships between senior and junior medical staff, are we maximising mentoring of young practitioners, are we making sure our young practitioners have a life outside of medicine?”
Professor McDermott said the survey recognised doctors were generally good at seeking treatment and counselling, and that while stigma persisted, the landscape had changed.
“I think we are talking about things like we never have before, and I’m very hopeful this younger generation be much more comfortable talking about anxiety and depression than I ever was – and I’m a psychiatrist.”
This article first appeared in the Brisbane Times on 30 June, 2014.