In the past, talking about mental health care wasn’t something people did very often. Fortunately, that’s changed a lot over the years, and today’s society is more open to and accepting of the discussion and treatment of mental health problems. But for those working in the medical community, it doesn’t seem to be that simple.
Mental health care among medical professionals remains somewhat of an untouched subject for many reasons, and fewer healthcare workers come forward about their mental health than the rest of the general population.
The fact is that health care workers, whether it’s a doctor, nurse, medical student, respiratory therapist, or other medical staff, are at high risk of developing mental health problems, and it’s essential to understand why and what can be done about it.
Risk Factors to Know About
Healthcare professionals are often at a higher risk of developing mental illnesses due to the nature of their job. Some additional risk factors for health care workers may include:
- Substantial workloads
- Seeing patients suffer
- Coping with death and dying
- Not getting enough breaks or time off
- Being emotionally invested in work
- The large mental resources that their work requires
Working unrealistic hours in poor work conditions surrounded by sick and injured patients can quickly impact the mental health of those in a medical profession, including those in nursing and medical school and other medical training programs. It’s crucial for those in the medical field, as well as those who have loved ones who work in a medical setting, to understand these risks so they can be aware and notice early symptoms.
Common Mental Health Issues Among Medical Professionals
Health care providers are subjected to the same types of mental health issues as others. Still, they may find themselves at a higher risk for a few conditions, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, burnout, moral injury, stress, compassion fatigue, suicidal ideation, and addiction.
According to Medscape’s 2019 report, 4% of physicians were clinically depressed, 11% reported feeling sad or down, and 44% reported that they were experiencing burnout. Physicians and other health care workers in family medicine, critical care, neurology, internal medicine, and ob/gyn experienced the highest levels of burnout. And the reported causes of burnout? These can range from spending too many hours at work to too many repetitive tasks to dealing with disrespect in the workplace.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention statistics shows that the suicide rate among male physicians is 1.41 times higher than the general population and 2.27 times higher in female physicians. Data also shows that while depression is a risk factor for suicide or suicidal ideation, health care workers who died by suicide were less likely to be receiving help for their mental health problems than nonphysicians who died by suicide.
While warning signs of a mental health condition can vary from person to person, some key symptoms of mental health issues in health care workers and medical students consist of:
- Changes in mood
- Decreased or increased appetite
- Substance abuse or addiction
- Problems with relationships
- Difficulty sleeping
- Inability to focus
- Physical changes or pain
How can therapy help medical professionals?
There are many different reasons health care workers may choose not to look for professional help. They may feel like they have to be stronger than mental illnesses — patients expect the best care possible from their doctors, nurses, and other health care workers. This often results in an unreasonable expectation of perfection, especially among nursing, medical, and other medical professional students. Additionally, they may be worried about losing their medical license with the medical board if they are deemed unfit to work or may not have enough time in their busy schedules to seek help from a mental health professional.
Mental disorders should be treated just as important as physical health, and psychotherapy can be a big help in treating mental disorders. According to the American Psychiatric Association, psychotherapy is “a way to help people with a wide variety of mental illnesses and emotional difficulties.” Therapy aims to alleviate mental health symptoms and helps patients work through their mental health crisis – whether that is difficulty dealing with everyday life in current health systems or a specific problem, like a past traumatic event. Working with a mental health professional can be a significant step in identifying issues, understanding them, and eventually healing.
Besides professional help, seeking other forms of assistance can be a good idea for those with mental health challenges. Seeking social support, like talking to others in healthcare organizations with similar struggles, reaching out to family and friends, and practicing self-care, which involves things like maintaining a healthy diet and taking time off work when possible, can help immensely with mental health.
If you are a medical professional struggling with mental health or want someone to talk to, find the best therapist for your needs by using the WithTherapy service. You’ll receive a personalized list of licensed therapists who are available and ready to help you to improve your sense of well-being and your life.