Physician Mental Illness and Depression Prevention

Depression is a common disorder, and physicians and healthcare workers are especially at risk. A recent 2021 CMA National Physician Health Survey found that 48 percent of physicians are positive for depression, while 36 percent have thought about suicide at some point. Of those, 14 percent thought about it in the last 12 months. Like patients, physicians struggle with mental health issues for different reasons. 

Stress and Mental Illness in Healthcare

Depression is a common mental health disorder and affects about 4.4 percent of people globally. However, doctors experience higher rates of depression and anxiety than the general population. 

Many possible factors contribute, including genetics, traumatic life events, grief, illness, and relationship breakdowns. For physicians and healthcare workers, stress is also a significant factor and is caused by: 

  • Long hours
  • Heavy workloads
  • Constant exposure to patient illness, death, and emergencies
  • Low emotional or other support
  • High responsibility 

Doctors and healthcare workers also tend to set high personal expectations out of fear of making mistakes and a deep desire and need to provide quality care. The result can be perfectionism, obsessiveness, and trouble unwinding from patients.

However, this is not sustainable. Eventually many HCPs will start to disconnect and depersonalize to cope. These tactics can also lead to emotional exhaustion, burnout, and a higher risk of mental illness and suicide. 

Promoting Mental Wellness in Healthcare

Managing stress can help ease heightened emotions and psychological pressure and help you stay mentally well. To start, prioritize sleep. On-call shifts and long hours can cause a significant lack of sleep, leading to anger, hostility, and depression. Help your body adapt with scheduled naps, controlled exposure to daylight, and caffeine or short-term melatonin use to promote wakefulness or sleep. 

Set limits with your work. Develop relaxation rituals to help clear your mind of work stress and take time for your friends, family, and hobbies. Schedule and take your holidays or ask for a reduced workload if necessary.

Get help with other personal concerns, like troubling relationships, financial stress, or addiction. See your doctor for treatment or talk to your local physician’s health program for a referral.  

Suicide Prevention for Physicians and Healthcare Workers

While you might be trained to diagnose and treat mental illness, it’s not always easy to spot your own symptoms. You might also feel shame or guilt about your condition, causing it to go undiagnosed for a long time. Recognizing the risks in yourself can help you recover earlier. 

Protect your mental health with these steps:

  • Identify suicidal thoughts. These are abnormal thinking patterns and are warning signs of risk. 
  • Screen your symptoms. Watch for:
    • Changes in mood and behaviour
    • Withdrawal from your friends and family
    • Increasing use of substances
    • Changes in sleeping patterns
    • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Get help. Contact your local physician health program or talk to a crisis line. Don’t self-treat or self-medicate.

Remember that suicide is preventable. Call 911 or go to the nearest hospital if you are in crisis. 

Learn About Physician Wellness With MDBriefCase

Our mental health awareness content includes wellness for both patients and healthcare workers. Join the MDBriefCase community for free and stay up-to-date on guidelines and accredited professional development. 

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