Report Highlights Doctors' Mental Health Crisis

Nicky Broyd

April 24, 2019

A new report from the British Medical Association (BMA) based on survey data has found a 'serious mental health crisis' among doctors and medical students.

It is now calling for major changes in workplace cultures to help build supportive working environments, with better access to support services, and an end to doctors feeling unable to ask for help.

Survey Results

There were 4347 respondents to the mental health and wellbeing survey, including around 1400 medical students. The findings of the report Caring for the mental health of the medical workforce included:

  • 80% of doctors were at a high or very high risk of burnout

  • Junior doctors were most at risk of burnout

  • 27% of all respondents reported a diagnosis of a mental health condition at some point in their careers, 7% of cases were diagnosed in the past year

  • 40% of respondents said they were currently experiencing a broader range of psychological and emotional conditions

  • Those working the longest hours (51 or more/week) were most likely to report problems

  • 90% of respondents cited current work, training, or study environments as having a significant or partial contribution to their problems

  • Half of GPs said they or their practice had sought help for conditions affecting work or training

  • 1 in 3 reported regular or occasional use of alcohol, drugs, self-medication or prescribing to help cope with a mental health condition, with this being more common among men and older doctors

  • 63% of respondents knew how to access support, with awareness highest among medical students but lowest among junior doctors

  • Of all respondents seeking support, 65% did so outside of their workplace or study setting
     

The findings echo Medscape UK's own December 2018 survey findings on doctors and burnout . Nearly a third of 968 UK doctors (32%) reported feeling burned out at some stage and 14% said they were depressed. Work was the main cause of doctors' depression and was having a negative effect on relationships with patients and colleagues.

Building a Supportive Culture

A detailed set of potential solutions will be produced by the BMA this summer. However, the report did issue some early bullet points:

  • Valuing the NHS workforce, offering adjustments, such as time off or reduced hours

  • Prevention measures, including no-blame environments

  • Raising mental health awareness and addressing stigma over accessing support

  • Being proactive in providing support and strategies to improve mental health

  • Offering support, including around high-stress events, such as career moves and traumatic incidents

  • Improving awareness of services

  • Offering appropriate support services that are timely, confidential, and flexible

  • Providing spaces for rest, refreshments, and reflection with colleagues on experiences

  • Encouraging self-care and peer support

'Alarming Mental Health Crisis'

The survey was launched by Prof Dinesh Bhugra, BMA president and emeritus professor of mental health & cultural diversity at Kings College, London. In a statement he said: "This report shines an important light on the alarming mental health crisis currently burdening the medical workforce as the link between the current pressures on doctors and poor mental health can no longer be ignored."

He said that "the enormous demands being placed on doctors have come at a worrying price.

"While there is no denying that being a doctor is a challenging and demanding role, too often the line of what can be considered routine pressures of the job has most definitely been crossed and the consequence is a workforce that has been pushed to literal breaking point.

"As the people who are entrusted with caring for the health of others, doctors often feel particularly vulnerable or unable to come forward and seek help for fear of judgement and or any perceived ramification a declaration of poor mental health may have on their prospective career.

"As well as focusing on addressing the immediate pressures which are negatively impacting doctors, such as long working hours, unmanageable workloads and rota gaps, we need to see a wider cultural shift that addresses this stigma that currently inhibits doctors seeking help and ensures that support is publicised and readily available for those who do so.

"A system that fails to support and protect the health of its own workforce will only flounder and this is as clear a call to action if ever there was one."

Caring for the mental health of the medical workforce , BMA, April 2019

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