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5 Ways to Improve Mental Health…for Doctors, by Doctors

5 Ways to Improve Mental Health…for Doctors, by Doctors

October 16, 2018 Self Care for Doctors

With one in four people prone to a mental health condition at some point in their lives, doctors are also not immune to this risk.

RACGP has acknowledged that anxiety, depression, burnout are routinely experienced by the doctors, and at the rates higher than general population and other professions. Long hours and heavy workload, financial demands, workplace stresses, pressure to refrain from mistakes, regulatory compliance, ever-increasing demand for balancing work and personal responsibilities are the various stimuli for stress among doctors. 71% of the doctors surveyed were concerned about making a critical error due to fatigue caused by hours worked. “If we can’t help ourselves, how we are meant to help others”- is the common sentiment.

Students are dropping out of the medicine course, registrars who might want a public job in future are reluctant to complain and unfortunate events that happened in recent past were alarming. However, doctors may delay seeking help due to impact on their practice.

Fundamental change in the way Australians deal with doctors is needed.

ANZCA is active at supporting initiatives that deal with the mental health of the Anaesthetists. Beyond Blue is doing significant work under its Doctors Mental Health Programme and has published the comprehensive report in 2013 after surveying 12,000 doctors and 1800 medical students. The report findings recommend promoting the importance of maintaining good mental health and well-being and, addressing the stressful and demanding nature of work environment.

We all know, it’s easier said than done.

So what can be done to improve the mental health and reduce stress for doctors?

Doctors know where to find clinical assistance. I’m not a doctor, but have enough experience to say that drugs or medicines help only upto some extent in treating the mental illnesses.

These 5 alternate ways to improve mental health are not rocket science or reinventing the wheel. But these are ignored being so obvious or too simplistic to be true. But now there is lot of evidence to back them up.

Ofcourse, doctors need to find time out of their busy schedules. But unless they help others through this discipline, how can they help others?

  1. Talk to your colleagues about any issues.
  2. Have ample daylight where possible, as daylight prevent serotonin from being removed from the brain – as per new study published in October 2018. May be a 15 min short walk prior to consulting and during lunch hour may suffice.
  3. James Cook University researchers in Australia recently found that there is a statistically significant link between the major depressive symptoms and are higher takeaway food consumption. Having a discipline to avoid such food when in rush and replacing it with healthier options will help.
  4. Regular physical activity of 45 minutes 3 to 5 times a week (150 minutes per week) can improve mental health significantly as per a large US study of 1.2 million people.
  5. There is increasing evidence suggesting Tai Chi, Mindfulness and other such meditation practices than for a few minutes a day can improve the mental health significantly as stated in the latest research at Mayo clinic.

Doctors can allocate alternate days for exercise and meditation practices. Achieving benefits of both.

If doctors keep their health and wellbeing as priority, this time allocation and discipline would be best investment that can yield highest returns for them, their families and their patients.