Why do doctors need a specialist mental health service?
Research has outlined a number of reasons support the need for a specialised service to care for doctors and dentists with mental health difficulties. The rates of mental illness in doctors are higher than those of the general population and in addition to this, healthcare professionals face a number of barriers to accessing healthcare. These are not only practical, for example having difficulty getting time off to attend an appointment or struggling to be registered with a GP with regular changes of address during training; but also emotional and institutional. Doctors find it difficult to admit illness – whether that be physical or mental- and the issue of confidentiality is a challenge due to the nature of the world of medicine. Doctors may be unwilling to declare a need for help because they are unsure how this problem can be concealed when there is so much overlap between their personal and professional world e.g. not wanting to visit their own GP as they live and work in close proximity and may need to refer their own patients to the same doctor.
Research literature about the problems facing health professionals shows:
- mental illness is common amongst doctors, with around 25% at risk
- suicide rates are between 2 and 4 times those of other professional groups, and in some specialities there appears to be increased risk
- the culture of medicine and dentistry is not generally supportive
- stigma and prejudice exacerbate mental health conditions
- patient complaints are a significant factor in leading to suicide amongst doctors
Even with the high levels of resilience that many doctors have, the combination of these numerous factors with regards to the profession and its stresses result in the mental health of doctors and dentists being more at risk.
Treating fellow health professionals brings with it challenges as there are many barriers to seeking and accepting help that doctors and dentists experience, which include:
- lack of knowledge about where to seek help, especially for junior doctors who are frequently moving trusts and regions for training
- personality traits common to health professionals (perfectionism etc.)
- concerns about professional implications (i.e. regulator involvement, detriment to career progression, impact of having time off sick etc.)
- difficulties of disclosure linked to stigma, prejudice, shame and fear of taking on the ‘patient’ role
However once engaged in treatment, there is research to suggest that health practitioner patients tend to recover at a faster rate than those without a healthcare background. Recovery from addictions tends to be very good and nearly 80% of practitioner patients remain working or return to work after contact with our service.
Different Speciality Groups
PHS sees and treats patients from the whole spectrum of specialities within medicine and dentistry but here is some tailored information about a few of these groups.
Over the 10 years so far that Practitioner Health has been seeing patients, doctors from a wide range of specialties have presented for treatment. Some specialties have presented in proportion to their numbers on the medical register (e.g. psychiatrists, physicians) whilst some have over-presented (e.g. paediatricians and GPs) and others under-presented (e.g. surgeons and obstetricians).
Some information on a few specialties in particular can be found here.