What can make a difference to the mental health of UK doctors? Reviewing the research.
9 Jul 2020 | Anne Marie Fogarty
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A report by Kinman et al., (2018) focusing on the mental health issues facing UK doctors, highlights key points of concern and data into the mental wellbeing of the medical profession.
What were the key issues explored in the report?
Key Points identified included:
- Doctors at all levels are considered at risk of work-related stress, burnout, and mental health problems.
- There is a higher risk of suicide than that of the general population.
- The conflict between home and work is an issue of distress for doctors.
- High levels of job responsibility, working while sick due to short staffing problems, and long hours can lead to mental health problems.
- Doctor’s workloads, working conditions, and a stigma related to mental health issues as doctors are seen to be ‘unable to cope’ are factors in the development of mental illness also.
From the evidence, doctor’s mental health is a real concern in the UK, greater awareness and implementation of support are needed and fast.
From the report, it is evident that further prospective studies are necessary to assess the mental health of UK doctors over time and provide a better understanding of organisational and individual factors that contribute to stress and support.
What ways are doctors affected?
The report reviews the research under five areas:
- Work-related stress
- Psychiatric morbidity
- Positive wellbeing
Research suggests that doctors are at a high risk of mental illness, so it is paramount to discover what factors contribute to the development of mental health problem. The report looked at elements of an individual, organisational and occupational nature.
- Individual factors included socio-demographic background and personality of the doctor.
- Occupational factors such as medical specialty, responsibility, nature of the work, and job demands.
- Organisational factors including staffing, workload, lengthy hours, and support structure.
Organisational factors appear to be the most influential and most consistent predictors of the mental health of UK doctors. Notably, high perceived workload, work intensity, lack of autonomy and control, feeling unappreciated and lack of support in the workplace have strong associations with general mental health problems and symptoms of depression and anxiety.1
As doctors, you are working in a demanding, fast-paced environment where sadness exists, illness is present, emotions run high, and tensions can be evident. You must be strong for families and patients alike.
Support is not always on tap in the healthcare industry, everyone is already burdened with their workload, responsibilities, and most departments are short-staffed. This leaves little time for emotional support from overworked colleagues.
Other stressors were identified as:
Change is always present in the healthcare environment and is also considered a factor in stress creation.
Poor life-work balance due to the need for dedication to the job, further continued professional development, research commitments, and long working days.
The report concludes that a systemic approach incorporating various types of intervention form different tiers within the system would serve to protect the doctor’s mental health.
Providing the proper support for managers to polish their skills at enhancing doctor’s wellbeing appeared to have positive results.
Work is needed to challenge the barriers that doctors face if they seek help for mental health problems. Stigma, lack of cover for sick leave, feeling of failure, and fear of job losses are real challenges that doctors face daily.
No one can argue that doctors work long hours and under challenging conditions physically and emotionally. They give so much for their patients. It seems then only right their organisation and occupation support their needs and ensure that doctors in the UK are comfortable seeking help, that the help is readily available and that they are encouraged to mind their mental health.
Putting organisational, educational, and individual strategies in place over a period can have a powerful positive effect on the doctor’s mental health. The above report has made a real stride in establishing the causative factors associated with the development of mental health issues. Also, it has identified organisational responsibility as a key factor in mental health problems developing. The responsibility, therefore, lies at the foot of government, guidance providers, policymakers, and the health service personnel who can implement positive working changes to address the mental health crisis of our doctors.
Kinman, G and Teoh, K. Society of Occupational Medicine. (SOM) What could make a difference to the mental health of UK doctors? A review of the research evidence. https://www.som.org.uk/sites/som.org.uk/files/What_could_make_a_difference_to_the_mental_health_of_UK_doctors_LTF_SOM.pdf
A helpful list of support services for UK Doctors fromhttps://www.som.org.uk/sites/som.org.uk/files/What_could_make_a_difference_to_the_mental_health_of_UK_doctors_LTF_SOM.pdf