Many doctors battling depression on their own
IT appears that many doctors are heeding the words ‘physician heal thyself’ with Australian research suggesting while they have similar rates of depression and anxiety to the general population, doctors are considerably less likely to seek help, and more likely to commit suicide.
Self-prescription of sedatives and benzodiazepines also remains relatively common, beyondblue research shows.
The review of 86 doctors’ health studies is thought to be one of the largest in this area – although few of the papers were Australian.
There was also almost no literature on how best to treat depression and anxiety in doctors, with current programs poorly evaluated, according to Professor David Clarke, beyondblue’s research advisor and clinical director of general hospital and primary care psychiatry at Monash Medical Centre.
He believed that the stigma of depression was alive and well in the medical profession, and that doctors feared the repercussions of admitting depression. GPs in particular were concerned about the potential impact on their practice, whereas psychiatrists were more concerned with career implications.
“We need to make help available in ways that really protect privacy and so forth, and make doctors willing to seek it,” he said. “Everyone’s reticent to uncover and reveal their depression but it’s particularly so in doctors.
They’re supposed to be the healers, and it’s quite the different thing being on the other side of the couch.”
Reported prevalence rates of depression among doctors and medical students ranged from 14% to 60 per cent.
Anxiety was also high – ranging from 18 to 55 per cent. Male doctors had a 26% higher risk of suicide compared to the general population, while females had a 146% higher risk. Psychiatrists had the highest risk of suicide among doctors.