Dr Naomi Harris. Photo: Wayne TaylorAustralian doctors and medical students are much more likely to experience psychological distress and suicidal thoughts than the general population, according to an unprecedented examination of the profession’s mental health.
The survey of more than 14,000 doctors and medical students, conducted for depression group beyondblue, found one in five medical students and one in 10 doctors had suicidal thoughts in the past year. This compared with one in 45 people in the wider community.
The survey also found more than 40percent of medical students and more than a quarter of doctors are highly likely to have a minor psychiatric disorder.
Perceived stigma about mental illness is rife in the field, with almost half of respondents thinking doctors are less likely to appoint doctors with a history of depression or anxiety, and 40percent agreeing that many doctors think less of doctors who have experienced depression or anxiety.
The survey found medical students and young, female or overseas-trained doctors were most at risk.
Almost 6percent of doctors under the age of 30 were experiencing very high psychological distress – more than twice the rate of the general population of that age.
Of specialists, oncologists suffered the most distress, with more than a third highly likely to have a minor psychiatric disorder, while emergency doctors, surgeons and anaesthetists were most likely to drink alcohol at risky levels.
Melbourne GP Naomi Harris knows medicine’s toll first-hand. By the end of her third year studying medicine, she had lost interest in what she was doing and had difficulty sleeping. She was diagnosed with depression and admitted to a mental health facility, where she barely got out of bed for six weeks.
She says she loved studying medicine but believes the long hours and stress contributed to her becoming ill. She was placed on various medications and underwent electroconvulsive therapy.
Gradually, she recovered and with the help of a psychologist and psychiatrist has learnt to manage her depression. “I’ll be managing it for the rest of my life,” she says.
“What I’ve chosen to do is basically to get to know my depression.”
Beyondblue chief executive Kate Carnell said the findings were a wake-up call to the medical community.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.