Doctors urged to fight stigma and seek mental health support

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

9/10/2020 3:05:44 PM

New research released ahead of World Mental Health Day has revealed COVID’s widespread impact on the wellbeing of healthcare workers.

Stressed doctor in PPE
More than 70% of surveyed healthcare workers say the COVID-19 restrictions have negatively affected their mental health and wellbeing.

This year has been, to say the least, a challenging one for healthcare professionals.
A global pandemic affects everyone, but frontline healthcare workers are among the hardest hit and new research by Mental Health Australia is shedding light on just how far reaching the impacts are.
More than 70% of healthcare workers surveyed said the COVID-19 restrictions have had a negative effect on their mental health and wellbeing, while 67% said working in healthcare during a pandemic has been bad for their home life.
These findings were similar among the GP cohort.
More than 60% of GPs said their mental health and wellbeing has been affected, with 83% citing a rise in workplace stress and pressure. As a result, more than 60% said stress and pressure at home has subsequently increased.
Among the mental health impacts reported were prolonged tiredness and fatigue (70%), sleep problems (57%), and mood swings (42%).
Dr Billy Stoupas, GP and co-host of RACGP podcast Generally Speaking, said he hopes the survey findings will serve as a reminder for healthcare workers to check in with their colleagues.
‘While the COVID-19 pandemic has made this year particularly challenging for GPs and other health workers on the frontline, we know mental health stigma persists in our profession,’ he said.
‘We need to keep fighting this and embrace the fact that we are human and sometimes we need help, and that’s perfectly okay – know that help is there for you if you need it, you can reach out to colleagues, loved ones, and support services.’

The survey results have been released to coincide with World Mental Health Day (Saturday 10 October). This year’s theme, ‘Look after your mental health, Australia’, aims to reduce stigma, foster connectivity and promote help-seeking behaviour.
One in five Australians is affected by mental illness, including anxiety and depression, yet almost two thirds do not seek treatment – healthcare workers included.  
Almost half (49%) of all survey respondents – and 58% of GPs – said they have not sought specific mental health support. Just 21% of GPs reported having been to a psychologist, psychiatrist or counsellor, and 16% have been to see their own GP.
‘I would also encourage every healthcare worker to use World Mental Health Day as a reminder to seek out a regular GP who can provide ongoing support and work with you to manage your physical, mental and emotional health,’ Dr Stoupas said.
‘Taking care of our own health ultimately better equips us to safely care for others.’
Many healthcare workers, however, have been actively taking steps to maintain good mental health, including exercising outdoors (52%) and cooking more and eating well (40%).
Emphasis on the importance of a social support network also emerged, with more than half of respondents (54%) saying their friends and family have been extremely supportive.
Yet just 26% – and 21% of GPs – said they had contacted a trusted friend or family member for support in the past six months.
Dr Leanne Beagley, CEO of Mental Health Australia, encouraged healthcare workers and their loved ones to reach out to one another.
‘When we think about healthcare professionals, we mistakenly believe that because they are in the health sector they must be looking after themselves – it’s a common misconception,’ she said.
‘The truth is, they need our support now more than ever. This is something we need to keep in mind on World Mental Health Day this year.’
GP Dr Genevieve Yates previously told newsGP that the RACGP is ‘very concerned’ with the mental health effects of the pandemic, and the college ‘will do whatever we can’ to support timely and effective care for health practitioners in need.
‘I can’t stress this enough: if you need to talk to someone please reach out,’ she said.
‘It is not a sign of weakness to seek help; many people have gone through what you are experiencing and have come out the other side.
‘Spread the word and check in with your colleagues if you are worried about them. We are all in this together.’
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