A Serious Mental Health Crisis Is Turning Doctors To Drugs

A Serious Mental Health Crisis Is Turning Doctors To Drugs

Today, a new report by the British Medical Association BMA, the trade union that represents all doctors in the UK, has highlighted a serious mental health crisis within the medical profession. 

80% of doctors and medical students are at high or very high risk of burnout, driven mostly by exhaustion.

Of the 4300 UK doctors and medical students that took part in the survey:80% are at high or very high risk of burnout, driven mostly by exhaustion40% are currently suffering from a broader psychological or emotional conditionOne in three use alcohol, drugs, self-medication or prescribing as a way to cope with a mental health condition

These statistics clearly demonstrate that the enormous demands being placed on doctors have come at a huge price and the current pressures and poor mental health can no longer be ignored – the workforce has been pushed to literal breaking point and all the causes need to be addressed.

The working environment has a particularly severe impact, with those working the longest hours being the most vulnerable to psychological and emotional disturbance. The idea that doctors can keep delivering more and more with ever fewer resources, regardless of the cost to their own wellbeing, is now evidently negligent and dangerous. There is a tired irony in the fact that a system built to support and protect health, is now failing to protect and support the health of its own workforce, who are its very fabric.

Whilst shocking, this announcement comes as no surprise to those familiar with the healthcare environment. During my time as a junior doctor, I saw people fall asleep on A&E shifts because they were so exhausted, heard of many who drank after A&E shifts to sleep quicker and even more, including myself, who have woken up in cold, anxious sweats at home and called the hospital to check on patients and to-do list items. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

I got into healthtech to try to address the admin burden, the quality and efficiency issues in healthcare and to make life better for staff and patients and never has there been a time where technology could make such a difference. There are so many companies ready to make a huge amount of impact, but in the public sector, the incentives still need to be improved to increase the rate of adoption.

Tech won’t solve all the problems, but as Eric Topol wrote a few months ago, the vision is to ensure safer, more productive, more effective and more personal care. But we need more positive steps towards this vision. Healthtech startups continue to explore other markets to generate revenue and evidence, often waiting for the NHS to catch up. As clinicians increasingly need the benefits of healthtech startups like Sleepio, Big White Wall, Calm or Healios, perhaps it’s time to address the causes rather than the symptoms. 

Professor Dinesh Bhugra CBE, BMA president and Emeritus Professor of Mental Health & Cultural Diversity at Kings College, London, who launched the survey on medical students’ and doctors’ mental health and wellbeing, said:

As well as focusing on addressing the immediate pressures which are negatively impacting doctors, such as long working hours, unmanageable workloads and rota gaps, we need to see a wider cultural shift that addresses this stigma that currently inhibits doctors seeking help and ensures that support is publicized and readily available for those who do so.”

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