Poor mental health among doctors and medical students has far-reaching effects. As well as the personal impact for the individual and those close to them, colleagues, peers and patients can also be affected. Promoting good mental health in our hospitals and health services is strongly in the interests of both the medical profession and the broader Australian community.

What we know about doctors' mental health

Doctors experience a range of risk factors for anxiety and depression including heavy workloads, long working hours, shift work, work-effort imbalance, abuse/mistreatment from patients, and home-work stress. 

In February/March 2013, beyondblue and its key partners conducted a national survey of more than 14,000 Australian medical students and doctors. A world-first in terms of scale and scope, the National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students identified some of the mental health challenges facing the medical community.  

Key findings include:

  • One in five medical students and one in 10 doctors had suicidal thoughts in the past year. 
  • 3.4 per cent of doctors are experiencing very high psychological distress, much greater than the wider community figure of 2.6%.
  • Young doctors work longer hours, are far more psychologically distressed, think about suicide more and are more burnt-out than their older colleagues.
  • Stigma is a major factor – almost half of respondents think doctors are less likely to appoint doctors with a history of depression or anxiety.
  • Doctors are resilient and are often able to limit any negative personal and professional impact of poor mental health.

Download the executive summary or full report

Mental health conditions cost Australian employers $10.9 billion annually through absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims. 

Research by PwC has shown that every dollar spent creating a mentally healthy workplace will, on average, have a positive return on investment of $2.30.

Around

1 in 5

medical students had suicidal thoughts in the past year

 

 

Diana shares her experience of depression while working long
hours as an anaesthetist

Creating a mentally healthy health service

There are practical actions every health service can take to create mentally healthy and safe environments for all employees, including doctors. A mentally healthy culture, effective and authentic leadership, and simple, cost-effective processes can be easily implemented, and will reap significant efficiency and productivity benefits. You'll also protect the mental health of your most important assets – your people.

Heads Up encourages organisations to take action across three broad areas. Within each, there are a number of programs and initiatives to help you effect change, including:


180-blue-bulb

Raising awareness and reducing stigma

  • Encouraging organisational leaders to speak openly and positively about mental health in the workplace and encourage appropriate self-care among all staff
  • Providing education and awareness training to all staff on mental health and wellbeing.
  • Providing resources to help medical professionals look after their own mental health and wellbeing, and to support colleagues who may be struggling.

 Supporting staff with mental health conditions

  • Providing education and skills training to supervisors and leaders to identify and manage the signs and symptoms of mental health issues.
  • Identifying and supporting employees at risk. For example, providing mentoring programs to junior doctors to support the transition from study to work.
  • Developing and effectively implementing processes to manage return to work.

Reducing risks to mental health and promoting a positive working environment

  • Providing a range of internal and external support such as peer support programs, employee assistance programs, ‘wellbeing champions’, grievance officers, and doctors’ health services.
  • Identifying and managing at-risk teams or hotspots within the workplace.
  • Adopting a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination, harassment and disruptive behaviour.

Case study: Monash Care

Find out more about Monash Care – The Mental Health & Wellbeing Strategy for Monash Doctors, including challenges, benefits and outcomes.

Discover how Monash Health approached the initiative, and how you could apply similar principles to your health service. 

Next steps for my health service

  • For organisational leaders
    Take a look at our Getting started kit, which includes everything you need to develop a strategy and begin taking action. As well as tools and resources to help you structure your plan, there are a number of templates to make communicating with staff and stakeholders easier.
  • Our simple online action plan tool helps you identify risk factors and determine any gaps in your current approach to workplace mental health.
  • For health professionals at all levels  
    Find out more about taking care of your own mental health and supporting your colleagues.

Get support

Tools and resources

Keeping your Grass Greener - A wellbeing guide for medical students.

R-Cubed - Strategies to help medical students, prevocational doctors, and general practice registrars become more resilient.

ePhysicianHealth (Canada) - Online physician health and wellness resource, designed to build resilience.

You could also consider contacting your medical defence organisation (MDO). MDOs provide a range of resources and services to their members, including health and wellbeing resources, personal support, medico-legal advice, professional indemnity insurance, and individual advocacy. MDOs are exempt from mandatory reporting requirements. 

What is your health service doing?

Over the coming months, we'll be developing the Heads Up resources available to health services, and we want to hear from you!

Email us at workplace@beyondblue.org.au and let us know about your programs, what you've learnt, and any gaps we can help with. We can also help you with workplace training or any specific queries you have about workplace mental health.