While one pandemic has been playing out, a quieter epidemic has also been bubbling away.
And there hasn’t been much talk about it – until now.
A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia has revealed the shocking truth about mental health and suicide in the industry.
It has revealed female doctors take their own lives at an horrific rate of 227% higher than the average of their fellow Australians – male doctors at 141% above the average.
It has prompted the Australian Medical Association (AMA) to talk about the serious problem.
AMA President Steve Robson says long hours, ambulance ramping and hospital logjams have had a “significant effect” on the mental health and wellbeing of doctors.
“We’ve seen such a massive deterioration in the mental and emotional well-being of healthcare workers around the country,” Professor Robson said.
The issue was recently highlighted by the ABC’s 7.30.
A US study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) surveyed 7000 frontline healthcare workers.
It found 10% had suicidal thoughts or considered self-harm as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Burnout was the primary cause with a US study by Medscape discovering 47% of doctors experienced burnout in 2022.
Reasons doctors experienced burnout
Burnout had been a problem for doctors prior to 2020 but the pandemic undoubtedly made it worse.
Tangled up in paperwork and other bureaucratic tasks was nominated as the top reason for burnout.
An incredible 60% of doctors reported it as a problem.
The other top reasons reported in 2022 were:
39% – Lack of respect from colleagues and other healthcare professionals
34% – Long hours
32% – Lack of autonomy or control
28% – Insufficient pay
28% – Increased computerization of practice
Identifying the cause of stress and mental health issues in the industry is critical to successfully addressing them as well as maintaining the highest standards of patient care.
Doctors should be protected from burnout in the following ways:
- Balancing or reducing workloads and hours
- Streamlining workflows
- Providing access to mental health programs and workers
- Giving doctors more autonomy
Pushing doctors beyond their physical and mental limits serves no purpose to anyone. It ultimately proves destructive to the individuals involved, the profession and their patients.
Acknowledging you have a mental health issue is a significant step, along with having the courage to seek professional help. Doctors know this better than anyone, and will tell their patients the same thing, but at times it is easier said than done.
If you feel yourself slipping dangerously down a dark path, even just a little, there are some other things you can do to help yourself.
Begin a conversation
Talk with your partner, your boss, a confidante or a trusted colleague either inside or outside of your practice to share your feelings.
You are likely to find a sympathetic ear or even an ally suffering many of the same problems and soon realise you are not alone.
You will also be able to toss around ideas aimed at improving your position.
Make lifestyle adjustments
When you are working too hard, something has to give.
You need more sleep, you need to eat better, exercise more and enjoy more down time.
It sounds simple but unless you make it happen, the expectations on you and your workload are likely to not just be maintained but grow, above and beyond your capacity.
Work-life balance is absolutely critical to get the best out of us all.
Are you in the right environment?
Changing jobs is one of the hardest things to do.
We all stay longer in a work environment where we are not really happy, constantly hoping things will soon improve – but they often do not.
Be proactive, take a stand and make a commitment to yourself and for your family to find a work environment that supports you and your needs.
If you need to talk to someone
Drs4Drs is an Australian website and phone service that promotes the health and wellbeing of doctors and medical students, developed by the medical profession for the medical profession.
It is one of many avenues you can explore if you are struggling to confide in someone.
Drs4Drs – 1300 374 377
Lifeline (24-hour crisis line) – 131 114
Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636
MensLine Australia – 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
Headspace – 1800 650 890
ReachOut – au.reachout.com
Apply now to work at AHA
At AHA, we place a high priority on work-life balance and continuously work to create an environment that supports the wellbeing of our team.
We offer flexible hours in a company that supports you and your career goals.
We also have worked hard to sustain an outstanding workplace culture, driven by mutual respect, great communication, opportunities for professional and personal growth, a team-first attitude and strong core values.
And we are based in the heart of sun-soaked Seaford where the beach and cafe lifestyle is there for you to enjoy, seven days a week.
Our state-of-the-art, purpose-built facilities embrace natural light and space, combined with the very latest technologies and make coming to work a joy.
If you are feeling burnt out and seeking an environment where you are better understood, appreciated and supported, consider a fresh start with AHA Clinics.
There are some outstanding opportunities for doctors at our two clinics at Seaford and Seaford Meadows.
If that sounds attractive to you, we’d love to hear from you.
Our AHA leadership team will contact you soon to arrange an informal discussion.