We need more than Resilience to Combat Doctors’ Stress
In response to the BMA’s 2019 study into doctor’s mental health, BMA President Professor Dinesh Bhugra CBE said that: “While there is no denying that being a doctor is a challenging and demanding role, too often the line of what can be considered routine pressures of the job has most definitely been crossed.”
The study, released in April this year warned that 8 in 10 doctors are at high or very high risk of ‘burnout’. We’ve spoken previously on our blog about the need for new styles of leadership for ‘resilience’ in the workforce. However, at a personal level, doctors need much more support to cope with the levels of chronic workplace stress that can lead to burnout - which will be recognised by the WHO as a chronic condition from 2020.
BMA Mental Health report findings
- 80% of doctors are at high/very high risk of burnout with junior doctors most at risk
- Doctors working the longest hours are most vulnerable to psychological and emotional disturbance and medical students report the highest rate of mental health conditions
- Older doctors, SAS, and overseas qualified doctors are most likely to say they have asked for support but that none was provided
These findings have significant implications for the NHS. As the BMA’s report said, they should “serve as caution against the idea that doctors can deliver ever more with fewer resources, regardless of the cost to their own wellbeing.”
For example, those who were managing a mental health condition were most likely to report feeling less able to take on additional responsibilities or hours and were more likely to worry about making mistakes. At Miad Healthcare we’re helping NHS trusts to take a proactive approach to mental health.
Mental wellbeing for the medical profession
A practical approach to managing stress means considering your own wellbeing and that of your team rather than simply learning to become more ‘resilient’. From experience of our own workshops here are some practical ideas to consider:
1. Assess the risk. Are you or members of your team at risk? Overall 8 in 10 doctors are at risk but the risk is higher for junior doctors who are making decisions without the years of experience, or perhaps those returning to practice who need extra support to feel confident about working under pressure and dealing with stressful events and situations. Returning from sick leave was highlighted as difficult by respondents to the BMA’s study.
2. Recognise the signs. Signs of burnout include feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job and reduced professional efficacy. If you, or those you manage, are showing these signs then it’s time to take action. Supervisors and managers therefore need to be confident in having conversations about mental wellbeing.
3. Consider wellbeing as a whole: During our workshops we focus on areas such as understanding your emotional intelligence, recognising the link between physiology and mood, analysing your motivation levels and responses to events, guiding your responses to difficult and challenging situations, creating the energy to perform under pressure and deal effectively with new challenges, obstacles and setbacks.
4. Encourage self-care and peer support. We know from the BMA’s study that cultural barriers impede access to support and that mental health remains a taboo for many. The BMA found that doctors and medical students can often feel a deep aversion to ‘failing’ and where possible, doctors did not disclose their illness to those who might influence their career progression. Raising awareness about mental health, and the value of maintaining positive mental health at work, will help address the stigma around accessing support services.
5. Equip supervisors and managers. The BMA’s study found that experiences varied with regards to support from educational and clinical supervisors, line managers and occupational health services. Offering education and training opportunities will help to improve mental health awareness and the provision of, and access to, support.
The tools to support others
The overall goal, as Dr Andrew Molodynski, mental health policy lead at the BMA put it recently, is to “reduce the number of employees who needed to seek help in the first place”. However, in the short term, raising awareness and providing individuals with new tools to provide support to others will provide much-needed immediate action to help doctors deal with the challenges and demands of their role.
To find more about Miad Healthcare’s mental health awareness courses for medical health professionals, please get in touch with the team.