Wounded healers; what makes GPs so vulnerable to mental ill-health?

9th November 2018 by Kate Little

Wounded healers; what makes GPs so vulnerable to mental ill-health?

You may have seen Victoria Derbyshire’s BBC show “Doctors’ mental health at tipping point”, a powerful piece on the scale of mental ill-health and high suicide rate in doctors and some of the barriers that doctors face in accessing care. It is well worth watching if you haven’t.

Doctors experience more mental ill-health and addiction than other professional groups, and there are higher rates of suicide in doctors than other professionals, especially in young women, who are two to four times more likely to kill themselves than other women.

So what is it that makes us so vulnerable?

I believe that there are four main factors:

  • Biology and nurture – personality, genetics, upbringing and traumatic life events and experiences.
  • The challenges and conditioning of our training – such as moving every few months, those who do least well getting the least favoured jobs, “never show weakness”, “the patient comes first”, and difficulty saying no as it may affect future job prospects.
  • Work – the clinical and emotional demands, the potential high stakes of making a mistake, the work structure and work culture, and the potential devastating effects of public complaints.
  • Factors outside work – caring responsibilities, ongoing chronic medical conditions, previous mental ill-health, financial stresses, relationships (or lack of), hobbies (or lack of), and habits or unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol and drugs.
    We can look at these developing across a timeline.

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