On World Mental Health Day, VMLY&Rx and medical health charity You Okay, Doc? call for better mental health support for doctors 

— New study shows alarming lack of mental health support despite global trends:

  • One doctor dies by suicide in the UK every 3 to 4 weeks 
  • Doctor suicide in the US is twice the rate of the general population 

On World Mental Health Day (October 10), medical health charity, You Okay, Doc? and health communications agency VMLY&Rx pledge their support to physicians worldwide, calling for more awareness and support for the mental health of doctors.

The collaboration follows interim findings from a new qualitative study from VMLY&Rx that suggests junior doctors continue to receive inadequate support for their mental health. The top-line findings, based on face-to-face interviews with junior doctors in the UK, highlight the need for:

  • Clearer mental health signposting at the start of – and throughout – medical training
  • More proactive mental health support within medical schools and hospitals
  • Greater awareness of mental health support for doctors in hospitals
  • A cultural shift away from stigma and stoicism across the profession – dissuading doctors from reaching out for mental health support in fear of negative career impact
  • Addressing the issues of hierarchy, gender and ethnic bias that present additional barriers to seeking support

The early findings of the VMLY&Rx study mirror evidence from You Okay, Doc? and recent literature reviews that reveal a systemic failure to support the mental health of doctors on an international scale. The latest research comes against a backdrop of escalating rates of mental ill health and suicide among doctors and coincides with increased pressure on front-line staff as they help manage the COVID pandemic.

The study’s author – Dr Ankita Batla, Chief Medical Office Lead, Health Insights & Patient Partnerships, VMLY&Rx – says the early findings underline the urgent need for improved training, better working conditions and increased support for medical professionals.

Dr Ankita Batla, Chief Medical Office Lead, Health Insights & Patient Partnerships, VMLY&Rx

“Our initial findings confirm that we provide inadequate mental health support for doctors and physicians. The interviews we conducted revealed systemic failures further exasperated by a culture of fear and pseudo-heroism that forces many doctors to feel too guilty or ashamed to ask for mental health support. Our findings only reinforce evidence from You Okay, Doc? and evidence-based studies all over the world. In the UK alone, a doctor dies by suicide every 3-4 weeks. The medical community has suffered unimaginable pressures on their mental health during the last two years. Whist we can all recognise their unique contribution to our societies, we must also recognise the unique mental health pressures they face as a result. Enough is enough. We must do more to help them.”

(Left to right)
Dr Ankita Batla, Chief Medical Office Lead, Health Insights & Patient Partnerships, VMLY&Rx
Claire Gillis, CEO, VMLY&Rx
Dr Daniel Gearon, Founder and CEO, You Okay, Doc?

Dr Daniel Gearon, Founder and CEO, You Okay, Doc?

“We have a real crisis on our hands. The occupational hazard of being a doctor or a frontline emergency worker is the constant exposure to trauma, to illness, to grief. Of course there are the highs of saving lives and of improving lives. However, the job itself and the environment surrounding it requires more support than is currently available. Stressed and burnt-out doctors and healthcare workers will inevitably perform sub-optimally and this could have a negative impact on any of us when we or a loved one has to be treated.  We founded You Okay, Doc? to support the very people who underpin the health of our communities. They saved our lives, so now it’s time we helped save theirs. We need to find better ways to offer doctors the mental health support they deserve.”

In a survey of 154 healthcare professionals and medical school students conducted by 

You Okay, Doc? and First Responders First* between September and December 2020, comparison of respondents’ self-reported mental health levels pre- and post-pandemic showed clear trends:

  • The number of respondents who said they felt ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ anxious, depressed and/or burnt out increased from 22% to 37%.
  • The number who responded ‘slightly’ or ‘not at all’ decreased from 45.5% to 34%

Final analysis of the VMLY&Rx research is due to be published in late 2021. It is expected to include recommendations for:

  • Better medical training to include greater focus on mental health
  • Anonymous support
  • Designated mental health support
  • Societal change
  • Improved organisational structure, processes and working practices to allow for absence and certification

You Okay, Doc? is a mental health charity founded by doctors and psychotherapists to create a community that enables doctors to seek support, speak freely about mental health and be equipped to deal with the inevitable pressures faced. Founded in 2019, it is about to launch expanded and global services in partnership with Drager, #FirstRespondersFirst and Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. To find out more about You Okay, Doc? or to support healthcare workers, please contact [email protected]

VMLY&Rx is a strategic and scientifically-led global health communications agency for Rx healthcare clients who are researching, developing and commercializing therapies to improve patients’ lives.

 

 * #FirstRespondersFirst is an initiative of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Thrive Global and the CAA Foundation

 

References

One doctor dies by suicide in the UK every 3 to 4 weeks 

Doctor suicide in the US is twice the rate of the general population