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The shocking rise of GP burnout and depression

Doctors are more prone to mental health problems than any other profession, and it’s become a global epidemic.

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.

Why is it a serious issue?

One of the critical reasons mental health is a serious issue in the medical profession is that doctors face a large number of risk factors, both occupational and individual - and help-seeking is difficult due to complexities surrounding 'a doctor becoming a patient', a study by Taylor & Francis, found.

That report pushed for fast, efficient diagnosis and treatment, as mentally ill doctors pose a safety risk to the public, yet they are often reluctant to seek help.

"When health concerns arise for doctors, they may be reluctant to seek appropriate medical care," the Royal College of Australasian of Physicians report also stated. "Doctors may feel uncomfortable assuming the role of patient, and may opt instead to treat themselves or seek informal care from a colleague.

But doctors, like anyone else, need to look after their own health. And as an important component of maintaining their own health, doctors should have their own general practitioner and undertake regular health checks.

Signs of burnout

Signs of mental health, burnout and depression to look out for, according to the Royal College of Australasian of Physicians, include:

  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Cynicism
  • Perceived clinical ineffectiveness
  • Sense of depersonalisation in relationships with co-workers, patients or both.

“Historically, the medical professional culture has encouraged doctors to sacrifice their own health through accepted practices such as working long hours and taking work home,” the Royal College of Australasian of Physicians report stated. “Increasingly efforts are being made to address counterproductive workplace behaviours, and workplace bullying is no longer tolerated.”

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