Psychiatrists' Happiness, Well-Being Hit Hard by COVID-19

Megan Brooks

February 22, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Events of the past year have taken a huge toll on the happiness, wellness, and lifestyles of many, but especially those in the healthcare field, including psychiatrists.

The newly released Medscape Psychiatrist Lifestyle, Happiness & Burnout Report 2021 reveals how psychiatrists are coping with burnout, trying to maintain personal wellness, and how they view their workplaces and their futures amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the pandemic hit in March 2020, 84% of psychiatrists who responded to the survey reported being happy outside of work, similar to the percentage (82%) of physicians overall.

But as the pandemic has worn on, feelings have shifted, and there are clear signs of strain on those in the healthcare field. Now, just over half (55%) of psychiatrists say they are happy outside of work, similar to the percentage (58%) of physicians overall.

Perhaps not surprising given the specific challenges of COVID-19, infectious disease physicians, pulmonologists, rheumatologists, and intensivists currently rank lowest in happiness outside of work.

Anxiety, Depression, Burnout

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, more than three quarters (77%) of psychiatrists surveyed report experiencing some degree of anxiety about their future, the same percentage as for physicians overall.

This year, more psychiatrists reported being either burned out or burned out and depressed (41% vs 35% last year). About two thirds of psychiatrists said burnout has had at least a moderate impact on their lives; 5% consider the impact so severe that they are thinking of leaving medicine altogether.

The majority of burned-out psychiatrists (63%) said they felt that way even before the pandemic began; for about one third (37%), burnout set in after the pandemic began.

The top factor contributing to burnout among psychiatrists is too many bureaucratic tasks (62%), followed by lack of respect from colleagues in the workplace (39%) and spending too many hours at work (37%).

Psychiatrists' top tactic to cope with burnout is talking with family or friends (53%), followed by isolating themselves from others (51%), sleeping (45%), and exercising (43%); 42% said they eat junk food to cope; 35% play music; and 25% drink alcohol.

Most psychiatrists (63%) suffering burnout and/or depression don't plan on seeking professional help. About one third are currently seeking help or plan to do so, the highest proportion among all specialities.

Considering their symptoms not severe enough (57%) and feeling that they could deal with the problem on their own (41%) are the top reasons for not seeking professional help; 36% said they were too busy to get help, and 17% said they didn't want to risk disclosing a problem.

Fifteen percent of psychiatrists who are burned out, depressed, or both have contemplated suicide, and 2% have attempted suicide.

Striving for Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is the most pressing workplace issue for 45% of psychiatrists, and 44% would sacrifice some of their salary for better work-life balance. These figures are about the same for physicians overall.

Forty-seven percent of psychiatrists take 3 to 4 weeks of vacation each year; 16% take 5 or more weeks. In this there was no change from last year's report.

About one third (35%) of psychiatrists generally make time to focus on their own well-being, the same proportion as physicians overall.

About two thirds (68%) of psychiatrists exercise two or more times per week. Half of psychiatrists said they are currently trying to lose weight; about one quarter are trying to maintain their current weight.

About one quarter (26%) of psychiatrists said they do not drink alcohol at all; 17% have five or more drinks per week.

Most psychiatrists are currently in a committed relationship, with 81% either married or living with a partner. Among psychiatrists who are married or living with a partner, 43% are with someone who also works in medicine. About 81% of psychiatrists say their marriages are very good or good. These percentages are similar to those of physicians overall (85%).

Most psychiatrists (58%) spend up to 10 hours per week online for personal reasons; 82% spend this amount of time online each week for work.

It's likely that the amount of time spent online for work will increase, given the pandemic-fueled surge in telemedicine. Yet even when their personal and professional internet use are combined, psychiatrists, on average, spend far less time online than the nearly 7 hours per day of the average internet user, according to recent data.

Findings from the latest happiness, wellness, and lifestyle survey are based on 12,339 Medscape member physicians practicing in the United States who completed an online survey conducted between August 30 and November 5, 2020.

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