THE fear of appearing less competent is stopping junior doctors from addressing their mental health concerns, according to a WA medical professional.
Stanley Medical Officers’ Society president Kiran Narula, who was recently named WA Junior Doctor of the Year, said doctors in training were afraid that admitting they had depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts might lead them to be considered incapable of handling the demanding role.
“You’re showing yourself to be vulnerable and admitting that you can be a patient when you’re supposed to be a doctor,” Dr Narula said.
“With that, there is a genuine concern you’ll have restrictions placed on you.”
Beyondblue’s 2013 National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students found young doctors appeared “particularly vulnerable to poor mental health and high levels of stress” and were more prone to burnout than their more established colleagues.
The survey also found about 40 per cent of doctors felt medical professionals with a history of mental health disorders were considered less competent than their peers, with half believing it stunted career progression.
Dr Narula, a junior medial officer, said the stigma over mental health remained four years on.
“It requires a cultural change to fix problems of stigma and employers to recognise that providing healthcare is a taxing business,” he said.
“In the same way that paramedics, our police force and firefighters are rotated out of duty and supported when vulnerable, we need to ensure that doctors get a break from the physical and emotional turmoil that is part of their job.
“I’m optimistic that change is occurring.”
The Fiona Stanley and Fremantle Hospitals Group’s (FSFHG) new Doctors Welfare Group is currently looking at solutions to burnout and ways to address the stigma tied to mental health concerns.
Last Friday, South Metropolitan Health Service staff wore their brightest shirts as part of Loud Shirt Friday, an event held to shine a light on the health of our doctors.
FSFHG’s acting executive director Janet Zagari said the day put the mental health of medical staff front and centre.
“As medical professionals, we treat our patients with care and compassion but sometimes we don’t treat our colleagues with the same courtesy,” Ms Zagari said.
A spokeswoman for the Mental Health Commission said help should be sought early.
“We encourage you to visit your GP, who can provide advice, information and referrals,” she said.