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Health professionals get sick too...

29 May 2018 - Dr Janette Randall

As health professionals, we often live in a state of denial about our health, especially our mental health.  Too busy to be sick, I’ll let someone down if I take time off work, others will judge me negatively if I admit to being unwell – all common and understandable thought processes for those whose job is to help others.

But mental illness doesn’t discriminate. The reality is that we can and do become unwell.  The Beyond Blue Survey of doctors and medical students in 2013 showed what most of us probably already knew – that doctors report substantially higher rates of psychological distress and attempted suicide compared to both the Australian population and other Australian professionals.   If you would like to read more, click on the link:

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/docs/default-source/research-project-files/bl1132-report---nmhdmss-full-report_web

The Conversations are starting!

In the past couple of years however, we have seen an opening up of the conversation about doctors’ mental health.  Led by brave families who have been bereaved by suicide, we have been forced as a profession to acknowledge the collusion of silence when it comes to admitting to ourselves and others when we are dealing with a mental health issue.  

In September 2017, 82 members of the medical profession came together to discuss the issues surrounding suicide in the medical profession, and potential solutions.   The two key themes that emerged from the day were Culture and Compassion – a need to change the deeply ingrained culture of medicine, and the need to treat ourselves and our colleagues with more compassion.  

The full report can be found here:

https://www.doctorportal.com.au/doctorshealth/news/final-report-of-the-national-forum-on-reducing-the-risk-of-suicide-in-the-medical-profession/

Our young doctors are leading the way...

The Forum opened with a powerful presentation from a female doctor in training who talked about the impact of losing a colleague and close friend to suicide.  In a search to make positive meaning of this experience, she has established a group of junior female doctors and more experienced senior female colleagues to provide support and mentoring. The group meets monthly and has provided a wonderful forum to normalise some of the stressors we all experience working in medicine, and practical strategies to cope.   Peer networks are emerging as a key protective factor against suicide and this is a great example.

What can you do today, tomorrow, next week to demonstrate compassion for yourself and your colleagues?  After all, you do it for your patients every day!!

Dr Janette Randall
Dr Janette Randall

Janette is a General Practitioner and GP education facilitator at Black Dog Institute. She is a current Director of the NPS subsidiary company Venturewise, undertakes work in the corporate health sector and provides medical advisory services to Medibank’s Care Complete chronic disease program. 

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