Chairman of beyondblue - The Hon. Jeff Kennett AC

 

The work experience of doctors and medical students appears to be stressful and demanding… Initiatives which address the stressful working environment (e.g. increasing resources and the size of the workforce, and limiting excessive work hours) may reduce the burden on overworked doctors – beyondblue report

 

A survey of more than 14,000 Australian doctors and medical students has revealed levels of psychological distress, including suicidal thoughts, equal to, and in some categories well above, the general population, with compensatory behaviours such as risking drinking also causing concern.

The National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students was conducted for beyondblue by well-regarded research organisation Roy Morgan. Believed to be the largest mental health ‘snapshot’ of a country’s medical community anywhere in the world, the survey found that medical students and young or female doctors are most at risk. It also highlighted the significant levels of stigma encountered by people with mental health problems.

beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett said the findings revealed the extent of doctors’ and medical students’ suffering and should act as “an immediate rallying call for action.”

Mr Kennett, a long-time advocate on mental health matters, added, “We conducted this survey because, given doctors and medical students are under immense pressure and deal regularly with pain and death, we know that the mental health of many of them is poor.”

He said the survey should serve as “a wake-up call to the Australian medical community”, which needs to do more to tackle things such as over-work and discriminatory attitudes.

 

24.8% of doctors reported having thoughts of suicide… nearly double the general population, and approximately 2% had attempted it.

beyondblue CEO Kate Carnell added, “If doctors do not deal with the mental health issues they are experiencing, it can affect their ability to deliver the best care.

“This survey identifies the challenges the medical community faces and outlines how they can be tackled.

"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.

"Given the high levels of stigma among doctors revealed by this survey, we think doctors are reluctant to admit they have a mental health problem, further highlighting the need for action.

"The survey also shows some doctors experience bullying and racism, which is completely unacceptable.

"I encourage all medical workplaces to investigate how to create a mentally healthy workplace, starting with a visit to Beyond Blue's Work Place Guide”.  

Major findings in the beyondblue report include:

  • One in five medical students and one in 10 doctors had suicidal thoughts in the past year, compared with one in 45 people in the wider community.

  • More than four in 10 students and a quarter of doctors are highly likely to have a minor psychiatric disorder, like mild depression or mild anxiety

  • 3.4% of doctors are experiencing very high psychological distress, much greater than the wider community

  • Oncologists are clearly the most psychologically distressed specialists, while doctors who do not deal with patients (researchers, administrators, etc) think about suicide most often

  • Male doctors work longer hours (46 per week) and engage in more risky drinking but female doctors are more psychologically distressed and think about suicide more often

  • Young doctors work longer hours (50 per week on average), are far more psychologically distressed, think about suicide more and are more burnt-out than their older colleagues

  • Perceived stigma is rife, with almost half of respondents thinking doctors are less likely to appoint doctors with a history of depression or anxiety and four in 10 agreeing that many doctors think less of doctors who have experienced depression or anxiety. 4.5% list bullying and 1.7% list racism as a cause of stress for them.