The Importance of Focusing on Your Own Mental Health as a Physician

Matt Brewster

Emergency Medicine recently published a study that states, “It has been known for almost 150 years that physicians have an increased propensity to die by suicide compared with the general population.” Ironically, the rate of death from cardiovascular or other chronic conditions common to the general population is much lower in the physician population.

Each year 300 to 400 doctors die by their own hands. That is one doctor per day in the United States. This startling statistic is a red flag for every physician. The question, as you ponder these numbers, is: What are doctors doing to turn these numbers around?

The Mental State of American Doctors

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) publishes a fact sheet on physician suicide. This data tells us:

  • Untreated mental health conditions are the primary cause of these suicides.
  • The suicide rate for male doctors is 1.41 times higher than the general male population. It’s worse for female doctors, at 2.27 times the general female population.
  • 23% of interns have thoughts of suicide. However, if they attend therapy, the number drops by 50%.

Finding Ways to Avoid Burnout

Burnout is a common foundation for depression. Nearly 50% of doctors say they have burnout symptoms. The AFSP says, “Drivers of burnout include workload, work inefficiency, lack of autonomy and meaning in work, and work-home conflict.”

It seems we have a good grip on what’s happening to our nation’s doctors. If you are a physician, the signs are prevalent that you must carefully monitor your own health. For coworkers and administrators, this crisis requires policies that protect doctors and monitors their health.

Monitoring the Mental Health of Doctors

The American Medical Association (AMA) recommends strategies for doctors to care for themselves. They suggest that doctors must practice a level of self-care first, before extending a hand to their peers. In the same way that an airline teaches us to cover our faces with the oxygen mask first before helping anyone else, doctors must practice the same level of self-care that we counsel our patients to use.

Leadership at the organizations employing these doctors must have systems in place to promote workplace balance. They must make an effort to protect their staff from the poor mental health outcomes that commonly result from chronic stress. To create these strategies, look first to the reasons doctors cite for experiencing burnout symptoms:

  • Too much bureaucracy.
  • Lack of respect from colleagues.
  • Too much time spent at work.
  • Increasing practice digitization.
  • Lack of autonomy.

Addressing these concerns isn’t rocket science. Organizations can create policies to mitigate the effects of burnout, including:

  • Providing doctors with the administrative support they need to work to the top of their license.
  • Streamlining organizational workflows to cut down on the bureaucracy.
  • Offering mental health resources and creating a culture that openly addresses burnout.
  • Giving providers a seat at the decision-making table to increase their control.

Want to Learn More? Contact MedSource Consultants Today

MedSource Consultants stands behind the healthcare community as the leading recruiting firm that helps doctors find the right organizational fit. Talk with our team today about how we can provide the staffing to help lighten the load of your practice.