Burnout, work-related stress, mental illness and suicide are increasingly recognised within the physician workforce. This can come at a real personal cost (loss of enjoyment at work, impact on home life, lives lost) and a professional cost (reduced productivity, days lost, careers lost).
Doctors are not good at seeking help: often denying there is a problem, not recognising there is a problem, being fearful of any stigma, feeling guilt about burdening others with difficulties, or having anxieties about possible job loss.
Many cope with humbling fortitude but this can then contribute to the spiral of ‘down’ emotions such as worthlessness and low self-esteem. How a doctor or other healthcare professional responds to illness lies at the heart of many tragic experiences. Maybe this is something to do with losing the ‘invulnerability shield’ which allows us to help others without fearing too much about what the future holds for us.
We routinely ask each other ‘Are you OK?’ but the unwritten rule is that the response should be ‘Yes, I’m fine’. We need to be allowed to say ‘Actually, no I am not’ or use a better question. Perhaps we should acknowledge to a greater or lesser extent that we are grappling with troubling problems all the time. ‘What’s on your mind?’ might be a better opener but it requires the ability to hold more of a conversation and in a safe place.
This resource aims to shine a spotlight on the mental health and wellbeing of physicians by opening up the conversation about mental health issues and their impact. It has been created to help you recognise the warning signs in yourself and others, as well as know about the steps you can take to stay well and seek the right support when you need it.
The infographic below shows the size and scale of the problem.
- Kinman G and Teoh K. What could make a difference to the mental health of UK doctors? A review of the research evidence. London: SOM, 2018.
- British Medical Association. Mental health and wellbeing in the medical profession. BMA, 2019.
- Cohen D, Winstanley SJ, Greene G. Understanding doctors’ attitudes towards self-disclosure of mental ill health. Occup Med 2016;66:383–9.
- Doctors in Distress survey. June 2019.
- Office for National Statistics. NHS sickness absence rates – April 2016 to June 2016. ONS, 2016.
- RCP workforce census reports: Focus on physicians: 2018–19 census and Flexible working and wellbeing
- Health Education England: Wellbeing commission report
- GMC report: Caring for doctors, caring for patients
- Society of Occupational Medicine report: What could make a difference to the mental health of UK doctors?
- BMA survey report: Mental health and wellbeing in the medical profession
- Doctors in Distress: Survey report
- Journal of Holistic Healthcare article: ‘Dying to help’: female doctor suicide and the NHS workforce crisis
- Anaesthesia article: Guidelines on suicide amongst anaesthetists 2019
Find out more
The RCP’s Mental health and wellbeing resource aims to support physicians to stay well and seek help when needed by opening up the conversation about mental health issues and their impact.