Medicine is one of the most stressful industries to work in. When you consider what they go through, it’s not hard to imagine why. From a mundane task such as observing a patient’s health with a uterine manipulator to draining the built-up cerebrospinal fluid with cranial shunts, and bearing a patient’s grief, a medical professional’s full capabilities are tested every day.
The physical challenges of medicine are well documented. Not so exposed are the mental health issues medical professionals experience. From stress to depression, medical professionals face a variety of mental health problems every day. But why don’t we hear more about it?
One out of two physicians reportedly suffers from burnout regardless of the specialty. Job burnout for physicians, in general, is higher than other professions and doubles that of lawyers. Depression is also high among residents and medical students—15 to 30 percent higher than the general population.
Medical school alone is rougher on prospective professionals than undergraduate school. Academic anxiety and a faster learning pace with greater workload add to their stress. Former star students may find themselves in the middle of the pack, while expat or out-of-state students experience homesickness and unfamiliarity with their new surroundings.
Silence and Fear
If these facts are so known, why don’t more doctors speak about it? Medical professionals are trying to, but the taboo remains strong. Professional and institutional stigma remain strong influences over their decisions.
There’s fear among practitioners that disclosing their diagnosis will negatively impact their professional standing. Possibilities of sanctions, loss of confidentiality, and job loss also discourage disclosures. Idle gossip, rumor, and plain shame of being unable to treat their own condition are real fears that physicians have.
“Assembly line” conditions in busy hospitals may also erode the mental health of even the most promising physicians. Medical procedures can only take a few minutes or hours, but aftercare and the other minutiae surrounding it can double the burden of a physician. If their quality of work slips while working, practitioners also tend to feel worse about themselves.
Resources for Doctors
Just as there are multiple options for laypersons, resources exist for medical professionals who need support for their mental health issues. Medical support networks exist in the UK and Australia for health professionals. Certain services help doctors deal with their psychotherapeutic needs the way they would for their own patients. Eminent doctors are ready to offer help for mental health concerns in total confidentiality.
Some services focus solely on the needs of other doctors. Other organizations offer courses that specialize in providing mental health first aid for fellow medical professionals. The courses start at the level of nursing and medical students. In this way, they are prepared to seek help for their needs and to support their colleagues who undergoing the same difficulties.
Open discussions about mental health will help medical professionals feel safer about seeking aid and support. Workplace attitudes toward mental health may have a positive or negative effect on the psychology of professionals. Supportive workplaces will open up safe discussions about the mental state of physicians in the workplace.
Openness facilitates health-seeking behavior and peer support. Workplaces will only benefit from fostering an environment that values the psychosocial well-being of their staff while maintaining their efficiency and quality of work.