In the second day of Mental Health Week, a new report from Beyondblue has found Australian doctors exhibit higher levels of psychological distress and suicidal thoughts than other Australian professionals and the Australian population itself.
The survey, which covered over 14,000 Australian doctors and medical students, found those in the medical profession were more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and psychological stress than the general community, and also consume too much alcohol.
One-in-five medical students and 1-in-10 doctors stated they had suicidal thoughts in the past year, compared to 1-in-45 of the general population. Additionally, more than 4-in-10 students and 25% of doctors were likely to have a minor psychiatric disorder (such as mild depression or mild anxiety).
The report also found doctors to experience “much greater” psychological distress than the wider community at 3.4%. Oncologists are the most distressed (33.9% mild, 5.5% high level), with researchers, administrators and others who do not deal with patients having the most suicidal thoughts.
The causes for this stress vary – the research found that male doctors work longer hours, averaging at 46 per week, and will engage in more risky drinking. However, female doctors are more psychologically distressed and think about suicide more. Young doctors were found to also work longer hours, at 50 per week on average. They were much more distressed and burnt-out than older workers.
Other prominent reasons included bullying (4.5%) and racism (1.7%).
An unrelated study published by the Medical Journal of Australia found that over half of female general practitioners had been sexual harassed by patients at least once, News Ltd reported. This may also shed light on the psychological distress experienced.
As is common with psychological problems, stigma stands in the way of seeking help. Many doctors stated that being a patient caused them embarrassment (58.6%), with the likelihood of being appointed as a doctor dropping if there is a history of depression or anxiety (47.9%). Many doctors also stated the industry views depression and anxiety as a sign of weakness (44.8%).
“This survey identifies the challenges the medical community faces and outlines how they can be tackled,” Kate Carnell AO, CEO of Beyondblue, said.
“If doctors do not deal with the mental health issues they are experiencing, it can affect their ability to deliver the best care … this includes initiatives such as the development of a mental health strategy for the Australian medical community to promote good mental health, the development of guidelines around working hours, better mental health education in universities to reduce stigma, and awareness campaigns.”
Key HR takeaways
Beyondblue provide a number of tips and pointers that managers and corporate leaders should invest in to help create a mentally healthy workplace:
Develop and demonstrate an active commitment to mental health in the workplace, and make sure it is visible for all.
Gear the overall approach of the organisation towards mental health.
All business decisions should be integrated with good health and safety management practice.
Hold all managers accountable for maintaining a mentally healthy workplace, regardless of level. You may also want to acknowledge and reward them for doing facilitating this.
Integrate workplace mental health policies/practices into the values and goals of the organisation.
Ensure clear objectives and performance measures are in place and that all policies are implemented.
Provide employees with workplace practices that promote good mental health.
Reduce the stigma and discrimination against those with mental health problems.
To learn how you can ensure your workplace – medical or not – is mentally healthy, click here.