Mental Health Within Doctors: The Dark Side & How We Can Shed Light
written by: Pamela George
Long hours, sleepless nights, adrenaline from stressful situations and constant focus: As pre-meds, we are already getting a taste of the amount of dedication it takes to be a doctor. Though many would think that it takes someone to be mentally “strong” to pursue a career as demanding as a physician, mental health advocates would argue that this is the wrong way to think. Consider this real life story:
A successful neurosurgeon is at the height of her career when slowly, she begins to feel sad; the workload is putting a toll on her emotional health; and she feels alone. She doesn’t talk to anyone about the way she is feeling, denying it — as vocalizing may make the problem more serious. Going on, feeling worse, and even feeling depressed on a daily basis, she finally sought for help and realized that it was hard for doctors to receive mental treatment. Her name was Dr. Liz Miller and was voted Mind’s Mental Health Champion of the Year in 2008, as a result of her efforts to increase the availability of mental health to practitioners.
It’s hard to believe that professionals who take care of others do not take care of themselves, but the blame should not be put on individuals. Here are some interesting statistics regarding the mental health of healthcare professionals.
- Over 50% of doctors admit to experiencing burnout (defined as work-related emotional exhaustion).
- Compared to the general population, suicide is 130% more likely in female and 40% more likely in male doctors.
- It is estimated that only 35% of doctors have a regular source of healthcare.
Thinking that someone has contracted a mental disease* based on their personal strength is equally as illogical as blaming someone for being more susceptible to a physical disease such as cancer; external factors must always be considered.
Pre-medical students are in a critical time in their career, where they have an opportunity to be influenced by different perspectives and values. Let us decrease the social stigma by speaking up about personal mental challenges and listening to peers in emotional distress. To make a change, we must first start within our community. Don’t forget that we have the power to change the stigma as future doctors, as victims, and as allies of those with mental health diseases.
*Disease often implies a physical abnormal disorder. Despite “disorder” being a common terminology for mental health problems, it retracts the graveness and removes the possibility of curing it. Mental health may also be a physical abnormality.
Learn more about mental health within doctors with these sources:
Ashraf F, Ahmad H, Shakeel M, Aftab S, Masood A. Mental health problems and psychological burnout in Medical Health Practitioners: A study of associations and triadic comorbidity. Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences. 2019;35(6):1558-1564. doi:10.12669/pjms.35.6.444.
Gerada, C. (2018). Doctors, suicide and mental illness. BJPsych Bulletin, 42(4), 165-168. doi:10.1192/bjb.2018.11
O’Hara M. Interview: Dr Liz Miller on mental health. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2008/jun/11/mental.health. Published June 10, 2008.
Outhoff K. Depression in doctors: A bitter pill to swallow. South African Family Practice. 2019;61:S11-S14. doi:10.1080/20786190.2019.1610232.