Young doctors burnt out, suicidal and drinking too much

AUSTRALIAN doctors and medical students are burnt out, drinking too much alcohol and more likely to experience suicidal thoughts than the general community, a national beyondblue survey reveals.

The survey sought the thoughts of more than 14,000 Australian doctors and medical students, revealing serious issues at the heart of the medical profession.

It found medical students and young or female doctors were most at risk, and revealed significant levels of "stigma" towards doctors with mental health problems.

The survey found one in five medical students and one in 10 qualified doctors had suicidal thoughts in the past year, compared with one in 45 people in the wider community.

It also found alarming rates of psychiatric disorders among the profession, with more than four in 10 students suffering from mild depression or anxiety, a figure which grew to 25% of qualified doctors.

Beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett said the results should act as "an immediate rallying call for action" to tackle over-work and discriminatory attitudes.

Chief executive Kate Carnell said the survey also raised questions about patient care, proposing a national mental health strategy specifically for the medical profession.

"We know doctors are distressed and think a lot about suicide, yet this survey indicates they are diagnosed with depression and anxiety at equal or lesser rates than the community.

"Given the high levels of stigma among doctors revealed by this survey, we think doctors are reluctant to admit they have a mental health problem, further highlighting the need for action.

"The survey also shows some doctors experience bullying and racism, which is completely unacceptable."Major findings:

  • One in five medical students and one in 10 doctors had suicidal thoughts in the past year, compared with one in 45 people in the wider community, according to the report.
  • More than four in 10 students and a quarter of doctors are highly likely to have a minor psychiatric disorder, like mild depression or mild anxiety
  • 3.4% of doctors are experiencing very high psychological distress, much greater than the wider community
  • Male doctors work longer hours (46 per week) and engage in more risky drinking but female doctors are more psychologically distressed and think about suicide more often
  • Young doctors work longer hours (50 per week on average), are far more psychologically distressed, think about suicide more and are more burnt-out than their older colleagues
  • Perceived stigma is rife with almost half of respondents thinking doctors are less likely to appoint doctors with a history of depression or anxiety and four in 10 agreeing that many doctors think less of doctors who have experienced depression or anxiety.

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