New report shows UK doctors at greater risk of stress, burnout, depression and anxiety

The report, by academics from Birkbeck and the University of Bedfordshire, makes new recommendations to tackle the mental health crisis amongst UK doctors.

A new report by the Department of Organizational Psychology’s Dr Kevin Teoh and the University of Bedfordshire’s Professor Gail Kinman details evidence that UK doctors are at greater risk of work-related stress, burnout and depression and anxiety than the general population. The incidence of suicide, especially among women doctors and for GPs and trainees, is also comparatively high.

Entitled What could make a difference to the mental health of UK doctors? A review of the research evidence, the report found that the incidence of mental health problems among doctors is increasing alongside the growing demands and diminishing resources experienced in the healthcare sector.

GPs, trainee and junior doctors appear to be particularly vulnerable, experiencing distress and burnout early in their career.  

The stigma associated with disclosing mental health problems and ‘a failure to cope’ revealed in the report means that many doctors are reluctant to seek help as they fear sanctions and even job loss.  

The report, published by the Society of Occupational Medicine and The Louise Tebboth Foundation, reviewed research on the mental health of doctors, the factors that increased the risk of poor mental health, and the implications for their own wellbeing and that of their patients.

Professor Kinman commented: “The findings of our report are alarming. The poor mental health evident among UK doctors and the implications for themselves and their patients should be of grave concern to all healthcare stakeholders. Action is urgently required to address a working environment that can be toxic to health.” 

Dr Teoh added: “It is crucial to provide doctors with more support from recruitment to retirement and develop a culture that challenges the mental health stigma and encourages doctors to seek help."

The report highlights the need to provide evidence-based interventions to improve working conditions alongside increased support to help individual doctors cope with their demanding working environment.

Interventions recommended included ‘job crafting’, where employers adjust the employees’ roles to fit their needs and preferences, and ‘Schwartz Rounds’, an initiative developed in the United States where healthcare staff can meet each month for a one-hour session to share and reflect upon the social, emotional and ethical challenges of their work.

Dr Alex Freeman, Chair of The Louise Tebboth Foundation, said: This report should be of interest to policymakers, employers, and others who have a responsibility for doctors’ mental health. Whilst initiatives to treat and support doctors who are struggling are to be welcomed, what is needed is to develop a healthy working environment. Prevention should be taken seriously, at all stages of a doctor’s career. The level of suicide in the profession is of major concern, and support for the bereaved workplace affected by such suicides is lacking. The concerns identified in the report must be taken seriously.”

The researchers therefore welcomed the recent announcement by NHS chief Simon Stevens that there will be national funding for a new mental health support scheme which will cover all doctors working in the NHS. The scheme will cover approximately 110,000 more doctors, in addition to those already supported.

The report is available at www.som.org.uk and www.louisetebboth.org.uk  

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