Looking after One’s Own Mental Health – Advice for Doctors and Medical Students

Posted on August 24, 2017

The mental health of junior doctors and doctors in general has been of great interest in recent times. The National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students by Beyond Blue showed that doctors reported substantially higher rates of psychological distress and attempted suicide compared to both the Australian population and other Australian professionals. Young doctors and female doctors appeared to have higher levels of general and specific mental health problems and reported greater work stress.

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald titled “Three of my colleagues have killed themselves. Medicine’s dark secret can’t go on.” A junior doctor from Sydney wrote about the stressors junior doctors often find themselves under –

In the year it has taken for me to complete my training as a junior doctor three of my colleagues have killed themselves…..Extremely long hours, little financial remuneration (particularly while training), discouragement to claim overtime, and extreme shortage of training places leave many doctors of my generation feeling as if we don’t have many options.

Further complicating the issue is stigma. Approximately 40% of doctors felt that medical professionals with a history of mental health disorders were perceived as less competent than their peers, and 48% felt that these doctors were less likely to be appointed compared to doctors without a history of mental health problems. Approximately 59% of doctors felt that being a patient causes embarrassment for a doctor. (National Mental Health survey of Doctors and Medical Students, 2013)

We speak to Dr Mahendra Perera, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist,  Honorary Senior Fellow of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Melbourne and an international medical graduate originally from Sri Lanka. As a mentor for medical students and registrars, his extensive experience and wisdom will be valuable for doctors in navigating the work challenges in the field of medicine. Dr Perera had previously written for the hub about his extensive experience in the challenging field of ADHD.