According to the NHS, one in four adults in England are affected by a mental health issue every year. In fact, mental health problems are the number one single cause of disability in the UK today. It’s one of the reasons why the NHS has place a lot of focus on mental health, with the ultimate goal being to give it an equal footing to physical health.
But what about the mental health of the people who are often turned to when others are in need of help. The GPs, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who provide much needed support when someone is experiencing a mental health problem. Who is looking out for them?
In the case of GPs, it’s their friends and family they turn to for support, rather than their own doctor, a new survey has discovered.
The study by mental health charity Mind found that two in five GPs (40%) have suffered from a mental health problem, including conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The British Medical Association (BMA) General Practitioners Committee (GPC) says the unmanageable and unsafe workloads many GPs have are damaging their mental health. The committee is urging for more to be done to tackle the situation.
For the Mind survey, which was conducted between January and March this year, 966 GPs from England and 100 from Wales were quizzed about their mental health. Their responses revealed that more of them would turn to friends and family when dealing with a mental health issue, rather than their own doctor (86% vs. 79%). Even fewer still would turn to their colleagues (48%) or practice manager (33%). However, the most surprising and saddening revelation is that only 1% of GPs would seek help from a professional body such as the General Medical Council (GMC).
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Mind says this is due to the stigma associated with GPs getting ill and many worrying whether their fitness to practise would be questioned. As a result, many GPs end up suffering with mental health issues quietly.
The charity is calling for the government and the NHS to tackle work-related stress – such as long hours and excessive workloads – experienced by many GPs.
Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and practices are also being urged to implement new policies and procedures to promote better staff wellbeing.
Speaking about the findings of the survey, Mind’s head of policy and campaigns, Vicki Nash, said: “Working in healthcare doesn’t make it any easier to talk about your mental health at work. In fact, concerns over fitness to practice can make it harder. It needs to be OK for health care staff to talk about their mental health. Like anyone else, they need and should have support.”
Meanwhile, former Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) chair, Professor Clare Gerada, has spoken out about the high risk of mental illness faced by doctors, warning that the already high suicide rate may increase.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 430 health professionals took their own lives between 2011 and 2015 [source: GP Online]. This figure includes 81 doctors.
The Mind research is both eye-opening and saddening. As with most things, prevention is better than cure, which is why any initiatives designed to tackle mental health issues among health professionals must be given the funding and attention they deserve.
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