Articles and Case Studies

Mental Health for Doctors Time for Action

05 Dec 2014

Doctor speaks to distressed female patient

The beyondblue National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students in October 2013 highlighted significant issues relating to the mental health of medical professionals.

In response to this, the Mental Health of Doctors and Medical Students Roundtable (the Roundtable) – a joint initiative of the Australian Medical Association and beyondblue – was held in Melbourne on 6 June 2014. The following is a summary of the outcomes statement1 resulting from the Roundtable.

The Roundtable

The Roundtable acknowledged that many of the issues brought to light by the beyondblue survey stem from organisational and institutional pressures. It also highlighted that while legislation and regulation provide a necessary framework for the medical sector to support practitioners and their employers, they can also act as barriers to seeking help.

The Roundtable recommended a range of workplace strategies including:

  • building a team and workplace culture that makes people want to come to work
  • creating a culture of mindfulness and willingness to support colleagues
  • providing a range of accessible touch points for debriefing and support
  • promoting access to prevention and early intervention services
  • having well-defined systems in place to support doctors returning to work after a mental illness.

Developing a nationally consistent and comprehensive suite of services for doctors and medical students via Doctors’ Health Advisory Services was seen as one of the most practical strategies to improve access to resources. This should be accompanied by strategies to debunk the myths surrounding mental illness and the requirements for mandatory reporting, which significantly deter medical practitioners from seeking assistance with their own mental health. Developing better communication systems to reduce fragmentation and strengthen information sharing was also considered as central to improving access to services.

The Action Plan

The Roundtable discussions resulted in a number of priority projects being identified for initial action. These will form the basis of a Mental Health Action Plan for doctors and medical students. It is now up to key groups within the medical profession to commit to taking a lead role in advancing each of these.

Continued leadership, advocacy and support from within the profession is essential to develop policies and initiatives and a professional culture that empowers better mental health and wellbeing for doctors and medical students at an individual, organisational and institutional level.

Actions from the Roundtable

Increase personal awareness, knowledge and skills regarding mental health issues for self and others

Enablers

1. Education regarding effective personal wellbeing practices and coping strategies.

2. Awareness of (atypical) signs of doctors’ mental illness.

3. Appropriate care practices for health of self and colleagues.

4. Prioritisation of, and self-responsibility for, own health.

Create a mentally healthy workplace

Enablers

1. Building positive work environments.

2. Access to support systems in the workplace.

3. Access to support to stay at, or return to, work.

Create regulatory and cultural environments that support mental health and wellbeing

Enablers

1. Mechanisms to address the source and effects of stigma towards mental health conditions.

2. Enablers and barriers to care for doctors with mental health conditions.

3. Access to mental health services and programs (independent of workplace).

4. Supportive regulatory frameworks.

5. Other impacts of the professional culture of medicine.

 

Reference:
1    AMA and beyondblue. Developing an Action Plan to Support the Mental Health of Doctors and Medical Students – Summary and Outcomes Statement. The Mental Health of Doctors and Medical Students Roundtable. Melbourne, 6 June 2014.

 
Doctors Health and Wellbeing, Anaesthesia, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine, General Practice, Intensive Care Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Practice Manager Or Owner, Psychiatry, Radiology, Sports Medicine, Surgery
 

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