Doctors’ mental health concerns increase as COVID rates soar
There is increasing concern about doctors’ mental health due to rising rates of mental ill-health and suicide within the sector.
According to a recent review led by the Black Dog Institute and UNSW Sydney that was published in The Lancet, doctors are at increased risk of suicide and, in their early years of training, one-quarter to one-third reported significant mental ill-health. Researchers said while this has been an increasing issue even before the COVID- 19 pandemic, there is emerging evidence that the impact of the pandemic is creating even more mental health problems.
The review suggested female doctors appeared to be at particular risk, with a suicide rate that is significantly higher than women in the general population.
Lead author of the study Professor Samuel Harvey, who runs the Workplace Mental Health Research Program at the Black Dog Institute and UNSW, says,
“There is a need, now more urgent given COVID, to intervene to protect and improve the mental health of doctors, with interventions needing to target not only individuals but, more importantly, their organisations and the wider systems within which they work.
The acute nature of the COVID-19 pandemic in many parts of Australia at the moment highlights the importance of this issue. The mental health of doctors, along with other healthcare staff, is something we are all depending on.”
“This review brings together the results of research on the topic of doctors’ mental health for the first time since the pandemic began. The review proposes a novel framework for health systems and employers to use when considering how to tackle the problem,” said Prof. Harvey.
Similar discussions about mental health in other professions such as lawyers, first responders and teachers have occurred, with each profession expressing worry that there might be something inherently psychologically toxic about their work that contributes to the high rates of mental ill-health that are reported in these sectors.
Researchers say this concern was escalated within the medical community after several high-profile suicide clusters among doctors, forcing the medical profession to reconsider its own vulnerability.
“What has been an open secret among doctors, is now being investigated and the importance is increasingly recognised. Doctors are a key element of our frontline healthcare system, even more so in the context of a pandemic, and we need them to be as supported and resilient as possible.”
Professor Kimberlie Dean, Chair of Forensic Mental Health at UNSW, co-author of the study.
Original story found on the University of New South Wales website. Note: Content has been edited for style and length.