Surge in doctors seeking help for own mental and physical health concerns – ABC News

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The number of Queensland doctors seeking help for mental health and acute or chronic stress is worryingly higher than pre-COVID levels, new data reveals.

The findings come as the Australian Medical Association Queensland (AMAQ) renews its push for Queensland Health to provide funding for its Wellbeing at Work program for medical interns, so it can be made available to all doctors.

The Queensland Doctors’ Health Programme (QDHP) operates a confidential helpline that provides advice and support for medical students and doctors in the state, as well as providing advice for community members concerned about a doctor or medical student.

During 2020, callers’ concerns about physical health increased four-fold, and reports of mental health issues and acute or chronic stress doubled, according to data from QDHP.

In 2021, concerns about physical health returned to pre-pandemic levels, but concerns regarding mental health and acute or chronic stress reduced slightly but were still 50 per cent greater than before the pandemic.

‘It’s only the tip of the iceberg’

The service’s medical director, Jen Schafer, said she worried more about the medical professionals who were not calling the service despite struggling to cope. 

An image of Dr Jen Schafer infront of greenery
Dr Jen Schafer is urging doctors to seek help if they are struggling.(

Supplied: Dr Schafer

)

“Hundreds of doctors do call us every year to have a chat and that’s OK, that’s why we’re here … don’t feel you have to hold back.”

Dr Schafer said the helpline, facilitated by volunteer doctors, received calls from across the state with 53 per cent in metropolitan areas and 47 per cent from regional, rural and remote areas.

The majority of the calls to the helpline are from doctors-in-training at 40 per cent, which is followed by general practitioners at 25 per cent. International medical graduates are another at-risk group, accounting for 12 per cent of calls.

Call to expand wellbeing program

The AMAQ’s Wellbeing at Work program for medical interns provides health and wellbeing strategies, including those to deal with stressors at work.

The program’s facilitator, Dr Ira van der Steenstraten, a trained psychiatrist and psychotherapist, said that transition stages in doctors’ careers were typically times when their mental health was most at risk.

A woman with long brown hair smiling
Dr Ira van der Steentraten says the feedback from medical interns in the program has been very positive.(

Supplied: AMAQ

)

“Turning from medical student to intern, that is particularly stressful with the added responsibilities you have, the workload, that is really difficult for a doctor, it doesn’t matter what stage of your career,” Dr van der Steenstraten said.

“After the first five years after graduation, even more senior doctors and [those] in private practices … are at risk because they are more isolated at work.

A Queensland Health spokesperson said the department was reviewing the AMAQ’s submission.

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