Mental Health in Doctors

22 February 2024

mental health in doctors

Hundreds of millions of people suffer from mental health conditions every year. 

The good news is public awareness about mental health is on the rise which has gone a long way in identifying mental health difficulties while improving access to support. We know this for a fact because the reported rates of mental health issues have increased in the past decade. 

What needs greater awareness, however, is the mental health challenges among medical professionals.

Before we dive into the topic, it’s worth noting that Muslim physicians have had a profound impact on medicine. Their holistic approach to health and wellness is designed to treat the mind and body instead of just curing physical illness. While this integrative framework values mental health, it has yet to be reflected in healthcare systems.

IMANA wants to change that. Join us as we address the issue of mental health in doctors. 

The Mental Health Challenges and Pressures That Medical Professionals Face 

COVID-19 reminded us how valuable our healthcare workers are. Though the global health crisis certainly exacerbated mental health problems among this vital group, healthcare professionals have been experiencing mental health challenges long before the health scare. 

Even before we felt the full effects of COVID-19, studies demonstrated that burnout and mental health issues were more prevalent among medical professionals. Findings from a 2023 study identified depressive, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders as the most common mental health conditions that they suffer from. Research estimates that up to 30% of healthcare workers (HCWs) experience depression, higher than the general population.

With stressors as high as 70%, the quality of patient care can be negatively affected.

Why Are Our Clinicians Experiencing Mental Health Issues?

Clinicians’ mental health issues could arise as a result of their professional and private lives.

On a personal level, these could be due to sexual, marital, and/or financial difficulties, decreased involvement in family activities, frequent arguments or unexpected mood shifts, social isolation, as well as the cessation of hobbies and other interests.

At work, research shows that the high demands placed on them as professionals, low levels of decision-making authority, and a lack of social support heighten the risk of stress-related symptoms. Additionally, reduced work-life balance and the normalization of psychological workplace stress prevent HCWs from seeking help, increasing the incidence of psychological morbidity among physicians. Doctors also face challenges like inadequate access to valuable life-saving equipment, too little patient-provider time, and overnight shifts.

Sadly, stigma prevents most doctors from receiving mental health treatments. 

The Stigma of Asking for Mental Health Support When You’re a Medical Professional

Most HCWs are trained to prioritize their patients. There is a strong stigma related to physicians and nurses seeking care for mental health issues. They often fear judgment from others or feel selfish at the thought of attending to their own needs. 

In addition, vulnerability in the medical world is widely regarded as a state that ought to be overcome, suggesting that it’s unacceptable to appear “weak.” As a result, HCWs fear facing disciplinary action, having their licenses revoked, or being terminated so they suffer in silence, with many choosing to self-prescribe and self-meditate

Unfortunately, these unhealthy coping strategies do not address underlying mental health problems.  They can create a myriad of problems like drug addiction and cause their mental health to deteriorate more rapidly. 

Considering that they’re at greater risk of suicide than other professionals, it’s important to emphasize the need for organizational-level interventions so that we can fortify our healthcare systems and the workers behind them. The World Health Organization (WHO) summed up the importance of this agenda well by writing, “No country, hospital, or clinic can keep its patients safe unless it keeps its health workers safe.”

Caring for Carers

Healthcare professionals’ psychological well-being at work affects patients’ quality of care. It also significantly reduces the number of healthcare workers. According to the National Library of Medicine, 53% of clinicians and staff reported experiencing burnout while only a third of them felt highly engaged at their jobs. Meanwhile, 41% of medical staff and 30% of clinicians left their primary care roles within two to three years.

Given these alarming statistics, it’s important to approach the potentially sensitive subject of mental health with a multi-dimensional perspective to ensure appropriate treatment. 

Creating a work environment that encourages dialogue, destigmatizes mental health problems, and encourages doctors and nurses to seek support is not a luxury but a need. 

Remember that mental health affects our decision-making, relationships, and how we shape our world. The American Medical Association (AMA) has responded by improving doctors’ access to mental health support that is free of punitive treatment as well as career and licensure restrictions.

But we can do so much more. For example, experts recommend promoting the positive aspects of mental health, conducting in-depth mental health assessments, and developing protocols to identify workplace hazards that affect mental well-being. It also advises making mental health resources more readily available, offering counseling services within medical institutions, and offering support for the entire spectrum of mental health

Taking Care of Our Doctors

The Islamic Medical Association of North America is dedicated to improving awareness about mental health among doctors according to Islamic Health rights

We’re committed to breaking down barriers that keep medical professionals from seeking proper treatment. Remember, the body is an amanah (trust) to you and it will return to God. When it does, it will speak to its creator about how you fulfilled its spiritual, mental, and physical rights.

While organizations and governments around the world are learning to preserve mental health in doctors, physicians must also be responsible for their mental well-being. Deepen your emotional reservoir with the help of our free Muslim mental health professionals directory and resources. It will improve your overall wellness and help you serve others better.