Helping those who help others: New resource for GP self-care

Paul Hayes

2/05/2018 1:47:05 PM

The provision of healthcare can be as stressful as it is rewarding, and a new RACGP resource helps provide GPs with access to services relating to self-care and mental wellbeing.

A life in healthcare means having to deal with the pain and stress of patients, as well as your own.
A life in healthcare means having to deal with the pain and stress of patients, as well as your own.

GPs, it turns out, are people too. They are susceptible to the same pressures and mental health concerns as those in any other profession, and a life in healthcare can serve to exacerbate those pressures.
‘As GPs we put ourselves in a position where anyone can come and see us and tell us anything, so we can see the absolute best of people. But are often called to make really difficult decisions with people at really difficult, vulnerable times in their life,’ GP Dr Tim Senior told newsGP.
‘To some people’s surprise, we are as human as our patients. That means we can be affected by being part of our patients’ lives, and that awful things can happen to us as well.’
The RACGP’s new ‘Self-care and mental health resources for general practitioners’ is designed to provide details of resources and services that have been specifically developed for GPs and other healthcare professionals relating to self-care and mental health wellbeing.
Issues of mental health are nothing new in healthcare. A 2013 beyondblue study of more than 12,000 doctors found that up to 21% of respondents reported a history of depression, while 6% had an existing diagnosis. Approximately 9% of doctors experienced an anxiety disorder (compared to 5.9% of the population) and 3.7% reported a current diagnosis (compared to 2.7% of the population). The most common sources of work-related stress were the need to balance work and personal responsibilities (26.8%), too much to do at work (25%), responsibility at work (20.8%), long work hours (19.5%), and fear of making mistakes (18.7%).
Many of these issues manifest themselves in the worst way, with suicide often all too common among doctors.
Part of the problem, according to Dr Senior, is healthcare professionals’ idea of ‘resilience’ and the belief that they need to soldier on in the face of their own problems.
‘I used to worry about my resilience, as I thought I should be getting through some tough times in my practice without being affected,’ Dr Senior, who consulted in the development of the RACGP resource, said.
However, Dr Senior’s eyes were opened when he saw how other GPs were approaching similar issues.
‘Many people were leaving, which made me realise that resilience is not being unaffected by difficult times, it’s doing what's necessary while being affected,’ he said. ‘The next time I faced some very difficult personal things in my life, I realised I needed to take active steps to protect myself from developing long-term problems or burning out.
‘This new resource would have been helpful to me then. It’s really helpful to have a simple outline of the various outlets for us to protect our health.’
‘Self-care and mental health resources for general practitioners’ is designed to provide an introduction to:

  • self-care
  • strategies to support mental health wellbeing
  • promotion of GPs having an independent GP of their own
  • where to access mental health support
  • supporting mental health in the workplace
  • accessing further resources (including support agencies, courses, reading material).
‘It’s important that we look out for each other as a profession, so while it may be useful for us to use this resource ourselves, it may be even more important for us to know that it exists so we can give it to colleagues and friends we know are struggling,’ Dr Senior said.
‘It can be very difficult to take the first step ourselves, but recognising our professional duty to ensure we are well enough to handle whatever our patients come in with means we need a professional culture that sees it as normal to protect our own health.’
Support program
In addition to ‘Self-care and mental health resources for general practitioners’, the RACGP’s GP Support Program is ‘committed to supporting members in their pursuit of clinical excellence’. The program is a free service that can provide RACGP members help with:
  • handling work pressures
  • managing conflict
  • grief and loss
  • relationship issues
  • concerns about children
  • anxiety and depression
  • alcohol and drug issues
  • traumatic incidents.

doctor-suicide gp-support-program mental-health self-care

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