Survey: 2 in 5 doctors suffering from psychological, emotional distress

UNITED KINGDOM — The growing level of stress that doctors and health care practitioners face amid increasing workloads is taking a major toll on their mental health. A new study finds that two in five are suffering from psychological or emotional distress and four in five are at serious risk of burnout.

The survey of 4,300 doctors and medical students, conducted by the British Medical Association (BMA), also shows that more than one in four (27%) have been diagnosed with a mental condition at some point in their lives, with 7% having a diagnosis in the past year.

Two in five respondents reported suffering from depression, anxiety, burnout, stress, emotional distress and/or another mental health condition at the time of the survey that was interfering with their work or studies.

When it came to general stress or risk for burnout, nine in 10 participants agreed that their working, training, or studying environment played a significant role in their struggles.

Younger physicians, med students, and those working at least 51 hours a week were especially in danger of suffering from mental illness.

“Medical students are surprisingly stressed, which is a bad sign, as these are some of the most energetic, enthusiastic people who want to help people by going into medicine,” says BMA President Dinesh Bhugra, in a statement. “Informally, I’ve heard that some of these stresses come from financial problems and debt. They are also feeling that as they learn on simulators, on dolls and with actors that they do not develop the same empathy with patients.”

Participants also find that getting help from a mental health professional is surprisingly difficult. Medical students tended to find the quality of mental health services offered unacceptable, whereas older practitioners were more likely to say help was simply harder to find. Researchers say that as a result, a third of participants admitted to turning to alcohol, drugs, and self-medication regularly or occasionally as a coping mechanism.

Bhugra says the findings highlight the need for better mental health services for those in the health care industry — not just to improve their own outcomes, but those of patients as well.

“The longer people struggle on without support, the more chronic their conditions become, the more difficult it is to treat,” says Bhugra.

The survey was conducted in October 2018.