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Doctors’ mental health

14 April 2016

 Doctors’ mental health

Trainees and young doctors are less likely than GPs or consultants to disclose personal mental health issues, according to new research by Cardiff University.

Published in the journal Occupational Medicine, the study, led by Professor Debbie Cohen of the School of Medicine, surveyed almost 2000 doctors with and without mental illnesses at various stages of their career.

Doctors without a history of mental ill health were asked to think hypothetically about how likely they would be to disclose different types of mental ill health at work, while those with personal experience of mental health issues were asked why and when they disclosed details.

Of the respondents who had not experienced mental ill health, 73% said that they would disclose at work. However, for those who had experienced mental ill health, 41% stated they did disclose. Differences in disclosure were also found in relation to career path and career stages.

Professor Cohen said: “This study revealed a discrepancy in how doctors thought they might behave if they were to become unwell, compared to how they reported actually behaving when they experienced mental ill health. Importantly, trainees and younger doctors were less likely to disclose.

“Doctors who had experience of mental ill health seemed to disclose later than when the question was posed hypothetically to those who had not experienced mental ill health. This suggests that there are significant obstacles that may only be recognised once a doctor becomes unwell.”

Not wanting to be labelled and not understanding the support structures available were identified as key obstacles to disclosure. Others included not seeing the relevance of disclosure, being able to deal with the problem alone, and concern about the involvement of the General Medical Council.

“The aim of this research was to provide insight into how targeted interventions may be introduced or enhanced to support doctors more effectively,” said Professor Cohen.

“Our results suggest that dissemination of information about pathways to support, and clarifying how support services function and their boundaries in respect of confidentiality, could help shape future services. There is also clear benefit in reviewing support at medical schools if we are to avoid such stress and distress in the future.”

The paper, Understanding doctors’ attitudes towards self-disclosure of mental health is available online here.

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