Suicide rates globally are reported to be much higher among doctors than among other professional groups or the general population.
By Pooja Priyamvada
Ever since the famous psychologist Carl Jung propagated the concept of “the wounded healer” it generated keen interest in the health of doctors and healthcare providers. Depression is believed to be the commonest occupational hazards of a career in medicine. The Indian Journal of Psychiatry concluded in a study that 30% of Indian doctors and physicians go through depression, while 17% have experienced thoughts about ending their life. Almost 80% of doctors especially at the earlier stages of their academics and career face the risk of burnout.
A career in medicine, especially in a country like India where doctor-patient ratio is severely high brings with it several stressors such as:
- extended working hours
- verbal/emotional sometimes physical abuse at the hands of patients/caregivers
- frequent negative patient-related outcomes and
- stressful interpersonal interactions among colleagues.
Burnout is more common among:
- trauma surgeons
- emergency doctors
- vascular & general surgeons
- otolaryngologists and
- young professionals with children.
This stress manifests in junior doctors making:
- prescription errors or errors in patient care
- losing temper with patients/caregivers
- demonstrating an inability to give sufficient time/attention to their patients
- experiencing poor communication skills, and
- feeling a lack of empathy on part of their seniors.
Doctors and medical students often feel isolated. They also find it difficult to seek help as this leads to several long delays in diagnosis as well as treatment. They also face the fear that seeking professional mental health help might affect their prospects as a doctor. Therefore, to suppress the feelings, sometimes they fall prey to self-destructive behaviours.
Several studies have suggested that doctors routinely experience work-related anxiety and then often succumb to alcohol abuse, turn dependent on antidepressants and smoking and so on.
In general, doctors are trained early in their training to mask their pain, to maintain a stoic stance about illness and this perpetuates the denial of their own health vulnerabilities. Suicide rates globally are reported to be much higher among doctors than among other professional groups or the general population.
Mental health issues must not go undiagnosed among medical students and doctors and it must be facilitated that they seek help without fear of sanctions or blame, and unlearn the shame and stigma related to this.
(The author is an avid columnist on issues pertaining to mental health. She is also poetry class facilitator in the newly introduced disability competency curriculum at the University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi. Views expressed are personal.)