Doctors slow to report own mental health issues

Increase in use of confidential service
  • Deborah Condon

A programme that provides confidential treatment services to health professionals with mental health or addiction problems, has seen an increase in the number of people seeking help.

According to the Practitioner Health Matters Programme (PHMP), it treated 48 people during 2017, which was its second full year in operation.

This marks a 53% increase on the number treated during its first 18 months of operation in 2015/2016.

Consultants, non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs) and GPs made up 75% of referrals to the programme, which is also open to dentists and pharmcists.

The programme noted that during 2017, there was a big rise in the number of pharmacists and consultants using the service - nine in both cases. All nine pharmacists who used the service presented with substance abuse issues.

Overall, 28 people presented with mental health problems, 14 with substance misuse issues and six with both.

Among those with mental health problems, depression, anxiety, stress and burnout were the most common issues. When it came to substance misuse, prescription drugs accounted for 57% of cases, and alcohol for 29%.

More women used the service than men (27 versus 21), and the most referrals related to people in the 25-34 age group (18) and the 35-44 age group (15).

Over half of all referrals were self-referrals.

More than 80% of the programme's patients are back working again, showing the effectiveness of it, according to its clinical lead, Dr Íde Delargy.

"Our experience shows that health professionals are very slow to come forward with health or addiction issues, due to shame, stigma or fears of reputational damage. Practitioners often resort to self-managing and self-medicating their problems, which in turn results in them presenting late and often in crisis when their problems are worse. That is why it is heartening to see an increase in the numbers," she commented.

She said that it is a concern that many people are presenting at a young age, close to the time of their qualification.

"They are often thrown in at the deep end and expected to get on with it, but clearly many find it difficult to navigate through what are often life or death situations. As a result, many suffer from depression, burnout and some even with post-traumatic stress disorder. This would indicate that the pressures of the job may need to be more clearly demonstrated to graduate doctors during training," she noted.

PHMP chairperson, Hugh Kane, said that a priority of the programme now is to increase awareness among the country's 25,000 doctors, pharmacists and dentists.

"We want every single health practitioner in the country to know that a confidential, non-judgmental and free service exists for their needs. Many practitioners who have health concerns can run into financial difficulties as a consequence of their illness and it is important that lack of finance doesn't become an additional barrier.

"This programme offers them the opportunity to come forward without repercussions to get the treatment they require. Confidentiality is of paramount importance and will be maintained so long as the practitioner is not an immediate risk to themselves or others," he said.

For more information on the programme, click here

 

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