Mental health awareness for physicians: Recognising symptoms and seeking help

Mental health awareness

Doctors dedicate their lives to the care and wellbeing of their patients, but who cares for those who care?

The taxing demands of the profession can often lead to mental health challenges amongst doctors themselves. Recognising the symptoms of mental health issues and seeking timely help is not just essential for physicians' wellbeing, but also for the quality of care they provide.

Recognising symptoms of mental health issues

While the manifestation of mental health issues can vary greatly, some common symptoms include persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, stress, exhaustion, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and changes in sleep or appetite. More severe indicators can include feelings of hopelessness, withdrawal from social activities, or thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Physicians, given their medical expertise, might sometimes downplay or ignore their symptoms, attributing them to work stress or fatigue. However, it's important to acknowledge that physicians are not immune to mental health issues and that acknowledging one's struggles is the first step towards seeking help.

Seeking help

Once symptoms are recognised, physicians should seek professional help. This could be a trusted colleague, a mental health professional, or a healthcare provider. Many hospitals and healthcare organisations offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) that provide confidential psychological support to their staff. There are also hotlines and online platforms offering help.

Physicians may sometimes hesitate to seek help due to the fear of stigma, concern about their professional standing, or the notion that they should be caregivers rather than care recipients. It's vital to remember that mental health issues or admitting burning out are not a sign of weakness, but a common human experience. Seeking help is not an admission of failure, but an act of self-care and professional responsibility.

Building a supportive culture

While individual physicians have a role to play in recognising and addressing their mental health issues, there's also a need for a broader cultural shift within the healthcare community. Hospitals and healthcare organisations need to foster an environment that prioritises mental health, reduces stigma, and encourages seeking help.

Continued mental health awareness programs, stress management workshops, regular check-ins, and mental health days can be part of this approach. Additionally, promoting a balanced work-life schedule, fostering peer support networks, and ensuring physicians have access to mental health resources are critical.

Resources in Australia and New Zealand:

Hand N Hand Peer Support is a free, confidential peer support for health professionals in Australia and New Zealand. Hand N Hand Peer Support was founded by Dr Tahnee Bridson.

Clearhead Clearhead has built an ecosystem that moulds itself around our users to provide a holistic approach to identifying, understanding, and guiding individuals through their overall mental wellbeing. Clearhead was founded by Dr Angela Lim.

You can find a full list of mental health resources in Australia and New Zealand here.

Mental health issues and stress among physicians are a pressing concern that requires collective acknowledgement, compassion, and action. Recognising the signs of mental health issues and seeking help is not a detriment but a testament to a physician's strength and commitment to their profession and patients. Let's foster a culture that values the mental health of physicians as much as their invaluable service to humanity.

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Medrecruit Editorial Team
19 June 2023Article by Medrecruit Editorial TeamMedrecruit Editor