Stress takes its toll on Doctors and Pharmacists
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Stress takes its toll on Doctors and Pharmacists

Doctors and pharmacists are becoming more prone to mental health problems than any other profession, and the stress is starting to take its toll.

Mental health and the medical profession

In Australia, a special report by Insight in 2017 investigated that among doctors, suicide rates are disproportionately high and mental illness is common.

In the UK, A report in the British Medical Journal in 2011 found that a third of doctors have a mental health disorder. And a Royal College of Physicians’ survey of junior doctors last year found that 70% worked on a rota that was permanently under-staffed, 80% felt their work put them under excessive stress, and a quarter felt it had a serious impact on their mental health.

Meanwhile a report last month found more than a thousand British GPs have sought professional help from the NHS GP Health Service since it was set up in 2017, with most cases involving stress, anxiety and depression and about 2% addiction.

In the US, a study by MedScape this year of 15,000 physicians from 29 specialties found 42 per cent were burnt out and 12 per cent reported colloquial depression.

Female doctors seemed slightly more likely to experience burnout, with forty-eight percent of women physicians reporting it compared to 38 percent of male physicians.

Pharmacy and alarming rates of suicide

Increased rates of stress, anxiety and a higher than average suicide rate in the pharmaceutical industry has recently prompted the Pharmacists’ Support Service to launch a new resource to better support pharmacists.

Call rates to the PSS spiked in 2017 to around an average of 5 to 7 pharmacists per week, and have since, remained at that level.

The new manual called Managing Stress in Pharmacy, was developed with assistance from APPCO, is designed to help pharmacists’ cope with stress, burnout, mental health issues and depression and identify management strategies.

The resource advises the importance of being healthy, taking rest breaks, being fit, active socially, eating properly and getting away from the source of the stress. It also encourages Pharmacists to seek help when there are problems and to make early contact with available resources such as PSS counsellors.

Education about stress management

A lack of early support programs while at student level may be a contributing factor to the healthcare professionals’ struggle to cope with these issues of stress, says pharmacy body PDL NSW director, Curtis Ruhnau. He identified medical students are getting more training early on about workplace stress, while pharmacy students are missing out.

“I’ve tutored med students and first year med students are given a tutorial where they’re taught about workplace stress, the stress of being low on the totem pole, and not being able to do much about problems,” he said. “However, in a recent presentation I gave to 200-odd pharmacy students, about 20 had done some sort of mental health training, and of those, only two felt this training had prepared them for their own stress rather than dealing with someone else’s stress.”

“Our med students are getting this training in their first semester yet our pharmacy students are not getting this at all. I would love to see this change. I think it’s an idea whose time is well overdue”.

The healthcare industry findings form part of a wider trend of rising mental health issues in the Australian professional sector, where only last month the results of Australia’s Biggest Mental Health Check-In revealed one third of corporate Australia participating in the survey suffered from some form of mental illness, with 36% suffering from depression, 33% from anxiety, and 31% from stress.