Start the Conversation: Mental Health Wellness in the Workplace for Physicians

Dawn Pascale

Once considered among the ultimate taboos, open discussions about mental health – particularly in the workplace – were typically likened to the professional equivalent of discussing religion or politics at the dinner table. However, with greater awareness and shifts in cultural attitudes about the nature and scope of mental illness, discussions around mental health and emotional well-being are gaining more attention.

For medical professionals in particular, who are currently experiencing a burnout epidemic, emphasizing the importance of mental health both at home and at work is especially important for patient safety and outcomes. To date, depression, burnout and suicide rates in the medical profession are still higher than in many other fields. Nearly one in three doctors is clinically depressed, and approximately 400 physicians take their lives every year.

Why Prioritizing Mental Health in the Workplace is Important

Given that most of one’s time is spent at work, it should come as no surprise that the work environment plays a significant role in one’s mental health. Mental health issues, which run the gamut from anxiety and depression to substance abuse problems, affect everything from individual performance to productivity and organizational profitability. Data suggests that mental health-related problems can cost organizations billions of dollars due to side effects like higher absenteeism rates, lower productivity, loss of focus and motivation, and physical symptoms like exhaustion and problems with alcohol or drug use.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), which estimates the side effects of untreated anxiety and depression in the workplace can cost the global economy up to $1 trillion in lost productivity:

“Mental health interventions should be delivered as part of an integrated health and well-being strategy that covers prevention, early identification, support, and rehabilitation. Occupational health services or professionals may support organizations in implementing these interventions where they are available, but even when they are not, a number of changes can be made that may protect and promote mental health. Key to success is involving stakeholders and staff at all levels when providing protection, promotion and support interventions and when monitoring their effectiveness.”

How Hospitals Can Help Break the Stigma and Promote Physician Wellness

A reorientation of attitude surrounding the mental health of doctors must be made-first and foremost within the medical community. Rather than stigmatizing doctors who face mental health, addiction, and other challenges, hospitals need to find a way to provide the support and help these individuals become productive, safe physicians.

Start by offering mental health training so physicians, nurses and all medical professionals can see the warning signs of mental health and substance abuse challenges. Create a space where professionals feel empowered and comfortable to speak out.

Implement a work-life balance program by offering flex-time, telecommuting, hosting social events outside of the hospital, offering health-related classes and reimbursements for wellness-related purchased.

Have a written policy dedicated to helping professionals invest in and manage their mental health, Initiatives like mindfulness in the workplace and offering mental health days can help with both on-the-job and personal stress.

Get behind a movement that encourages State medical boards to reconsider how and what they ask physicians about their medical health on first-time state medical license applications and on renewal forms. Disclosing mental health issues on a license application can have consequences. If not handled properly, medical boards can restrict licensing or mandate treatment which is driving the silence and fueling the stigma.

Additionally, hospitals should encourage employees to prioritize their mental health by offering support in the form of information about the signs of depression and other forms of mental illness, and where to find help and additional resources.

A Healthy Workplace Starts With Talented Professionals

At MedSource Consultants, we specialize in helping our clients build strong and profitable healthcare practices and organizations by sourcing exceptional physicians and nursing professionals. Contact us today to speak with one of our healthcare recruiters.