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Government to tackle depression and suicide among GPs

By Christian Duffin

The Government is to tackle the hidden problem of depression among GPs with a string of measures aimed at cutting the incidence of mental breakdown and suicide.

The announcement comes as the Doctors' Support Network, an independent charity which helps doctors with health problems, said an estimated 25 GPs commit suicide every year.

The National Clinical Assessment Service will trial a three-year support service in London from the autumn, providing a phone helpline and possibly a surgery set aside specifically for doctors and dentists with physical, mental health and addiction problems.

Government mental health tsar Professor Louis Appleby also published a report, Mental health and Ill health in doctors, urging medical schools and the royal colleges to encourage the use of mental health services for doctors in training.

Studies suggest that medical practitioners, along with the armed forces, have the highest incidence of work-related mental health, he said.

‘Many doctors find it difficult to admit that their work is stressful, that they have a drink or drug problem or that they need help. There are many reasons for this; the high personal standards of the people who choose careers in medicine, a culture of always coping, fears about damaging job prospects, uncertainty about who to tell.'

Professor Appleby's report was prompted by the death in 2000 of psychiatrist Dr Dakash Emso, who had bi-polar disorder and killed herself along with her three-month-old baby.

Dr Alan Cohen, a GP in Wimbledon and senior fellow for the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, warned there is a danger that some doctors with depression will treat themselves.

‘I do not have any evidence but we know that GPs treat themselves with antibiotics for other illnesses. If they have mental health problems they need to see someone professional and independent.'

Dr Lizzie Miller, a GP in Fulham and co-founder of the Doctors' Support Network, said while there were no official figures, roughly one GP commits suicide every fortnight.

‘It's impossible to gauge the extent of the problem of suicide,' she said. ‘The cases we know about are probably the tip of the iceberg.'

An adviser on Professor Appleby's report, Dr Miller also criticised the GMC's ‘medieval' practice of disciplining doctors who have mental health problems.

A spokesperson for the GMC said doctors reporting mental health issues received dedicated medical support, but ruled out making any changes to its disciplinary procedures.

Depressed GP

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