On World Mental Health Day (10 October), mental health charity, You Okay, Doc? and heath communications agency VMLY&Rx are pledging their support to physicians worldwide, calling for more awareness and support for the mental health of doctors. The new study shows an alarming lack of mental health support despite global trends. One doctor dies by suicide in the UK every three to four weeks and doctor suicide in the US is twice the rate of the general population.
The collaboration follows interim findings from a new qualitative study from VMLY&Rx that suggests junior doctors continue to receive inadequate support for their mental health. Initial top-line findings, based on face-to-face interviews with junior doctors in the UK, highlight the need for:
- Clearer mental health signposting at the start of – and throughout – medical training
- More proactive mental health support within medical schools and hospitals
- Greater awareness of mental health support for doctors in hospitals
- A cultural shift away from stigma and stoicism across the profession – dissuading doctors from reaching out for mental health support in fear of negative career impact
- Addressing the issues of hierarchy, gender and ethnic bias that present additional barriers to seeking support
The early findings of the VMLY&Rx study mirror evidence from You Okay, Doc? and recent literature reviews1 that reveal a systemic failure to support the mental health of doctors on an international scale. The latest research comes against a backdrop of escalating rates of mental ill health and suicide among doctors and coincides with increased pressure on front-line staff as they help manage the Covid pandemic.
The study’s author – Dr Ankita Batla, chief medical office Lead, Health Insights & Patient Partnerships, VMLY&Rx – says the early findings underline the urgent need for improved training, better working conditions and increased support for medical professionals.
Dr Ankita Batla said: ‘Our initial findings confirm that we provide inadequate mental health support for doctors and physicians. The early interviews we conducted revealed systemic failures further exasperated by a culture of fear and pseudo-heroism that forces many doctors to feel too guilty or ashamed to ask for mental health support. Our findings only reinforce evidence from You Okay, Doc? and evidence-based studies all over the world. In the UK alone, a doctor dies by suicide every 3–4 weeks. The medical community has suffered unimaginable pressures on their mental health during the last two years. Whist we can all recognise their unique contribution to our societies, we must also recognise the unique mental health pressures they face as a result. Enough is enough. We must do more to help them.’
Dr Daniel Gearon, founder and CEO, You Okay, Doc?: ‘We have a real crisis on our hands. The occupational hazard of being a doctor or a frontline emergency worker is the constant exposure to trauma, to illness, to grief. Of course, there are the highs of saving lives and of improving lives. However, the job itself and the environment surrounding it requires more support than is currently available.
Stressed and burnt-out doctors and healthcare workers will inevitably perform sub-optimally and this could have a negative impact on any of us when we or a loved one has to be treated. We founded You Okay, Doc? to support the very people who underpin the health of our communities. They saved our lives, so now it’s time we helped save theirs. We need to find better ways to offer doctors the mental health support they deserve.’