Doctors in crisis as their working conditions fuel psychological distress

AUSTRALIA has a serious problem, beyondblue Chairman The Hon. Jeff Kennett AC has said, because many of the medical professionals who the public turns to for help are overworked, stressed, depressed, dependent on alcohol or other substances and are at risk of suicide.

Mr Kennett has urged all Australians to watch Four Corners episode – At their Mercy – as the program investigates the pressure Australian doctors face in the workplace.

The investigation follows the known sudden deaths of four young doctors this year and reports of improper working conditions, sexual harassment and bullying within the health system. In 2013, beyondblue conducted a world-first survey of doctors’ and medical students’ mental health and discovered that they experience much higher rates of suicidal thoughts and psychological distress than the general community.

Mr Kennett said the recent troubling reports showed more must be done to address this situation.

“The time has come for Australia to realise this is a serious problem and to have the medical colleges, hospitals and governments come together to fix this situation as a matter of national urgency,” he said.

“This issue must be brought to wider public attention because doctors’ mental health affects not only doctors themselves, but also the quality of care their patients receive. Since the release of the doctors’ and medical students’ survey, beyondblue has met with different medical bodies to try to create change. The recent deaths in Victoria have spurred us to work more urgently with key health groups to recognise this terrible situation and remedy conditions that may be in play.

“This includes briefing governments about the unintended consequences that mandatory reporting laws for reporting ill health may have on doctors needing and seeking help. These laws, which in certain instances, force doctors treating other doctors with mental health conditions to notify the Medical Board of Australia, may act as a major barrier to accessing care. Too many doctors are working in a culture and environment where they are scared to tell anyone about their mental health and hide problems rather than seek the care and support they would demand for their patients.

“Instead of protecting patients like they are meant to, these laws are having the unintended effect of harming patients by making doctors too scared to seek help for their conditions. Everyone should have a GP they trust and health professionals should be no different. Western Australia has amended its local laws to exempt doctors who are treating other doctors from mandatory reporting, and we’ve heard this is leading to doctors from around Australia travelling there for treatment. I would urge other states to follow the example of WA. Ultimately, everyone deserves to work in a mentally healthy environment and why should doctors be any different?

“beyondblue also invited Mukesh Haikerwal AO to join beyondblue’s Board last month. Dr Haikerwal, who has been a fierce advocate for the wellbeing of doctors over many years, briefed Four Corners along with beyondblue CEO Georgie Harman. Dr Haikerwal was involved in working with beyondblue this year to form a steering group that includes the Australian Medical Association (Victoria) and the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA).

“This group will work with established organisations to develop, support and promote practical solutions and advice to leaders within Victorian hospitals so that they can create change. This work in Victoria will be used as a framework potentially to roll out to other states and territories. Examples include some hospitals where leaders are making cultural change and in some medical colleges that are showing the way. We must make it easy to make changes and not to look the other way.”

Any doctor or medical student who may be in distress should contact the doctors’ health advisory service in their state or territory. Contact details are listed at www.adhn.org.au

Mr Kennett is available for interview before the program airs and fellow steering group members Dr Haikerwal, psychiatrist Dr Helen Schultz and AMSA president James Lawler are available for interview after the program.

Source: beyondblue
Image Source: hospitalhealth.com.au

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Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities with another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years of experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities.

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