The number of doctors who sought treatment for mental health or addiction problems increased significantly last year, a new report has revealed.
The Practitioner Health Matters Programme (PHMP) provides confidential treatment services to doctors, dentists and pharmacists with mental health and addiction issues.
It has just released its 2018 Annual Report, which shows that it dealt with 75 new cases last year - a 60% increase on the previous year. Furthermore, non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs), consultants and GPs made up 75% of new referrals in 2018.
Altogether, 101 professionals sought help in 2018, with almost half of these citing stress, anxiety and/or burnout as the main reason. Some 37 had substance use issues, while 17 had significant mental health issues.
One NCHD who sought help admitted during her initial assessment that she had not slept for 10 days, was not eating and had experienced suicidal thoughts.
According to the programme's clinical lead, Dr Ide Delargy, this doctor's working conditions, sense of isolation and lack of sleep had led to her having suicidal thoughts.
"Despite the fact that these are some of our most resilient people, we shouldn't be surprised when that resilience sometimes breaks down.
"When this doctor presented to us, we signed her off work immediately and put her on medication as she was very agitated. Her recovery was slow but with the support of her family and her hospital, she returned to work on a phased basis and is now back at full health and working fulltime," Dr Delargy explained.
She said that the increase in numbers accessing the service highlight the huge pressures that many health professionals are under.
"We are asking health professionals, particularly young NCHDs, to be the best they can be while at the same time placing them in extremely difficult work environments and asking them to fulfill a challenging role, and all this very often while sleep deprived," she pointed out.
The report noted that while there had been an overall increase in the number of professionals seeking help in 2018, the number of pharmacists seeking help had fallen from nine in 2017 to four last year. The number of dentists increased from two to 11 during the same period.
The report also noted that of the 75 new cases seen last year, there were more women - 43 versus 32 men. Overall, 30 were aged between 35 and 49, while 26 were aged between 25 and 34.
According to PHMP chairperson, Hugh Kane, health professionals are often slower to come forward with health or addiction problems, due to issues such as shame, stigma or fears about potential reputational damage. He noted that fears about reputation can be a particular issue in rural areas.
"We want to raise awareness of the programme and of the issues which are troubling for practitioners. We also want to raise awareness of the personality traits which can exacerbate these difficulties.
"This service is confidential and non-judgmental. Confidentiality is of paramount importance and will be maintained as long as the practitioner is not an immediate risk to themselves or others," Mr Kane explained.
PHMP is an independent charitable organisation, which has the support of the representative and training bodies for the medical, dental and pharmacy professions, as well as the three professional regulatory bodies. For more information, click here.
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