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Trainees and locums least likely to disclose mental health issues

A survey of UK doctors has found trainees and locums are least likely to disclose mental health issues in the workplace.

Researchers from Cardiff University found that less than half of the two groups would disclose an issue, raising concerns about their access to appropriate support.

The paper suggested this may be down to concerns about being labelled, concerns over confidentiality and lack of knowledge about support available. 

Although GPs were somewhat more likely to be open about having a mental health issue – the report found there was a mismatch between what doctors ‘think they would do’ and what they ‘actually do’ when they become unwell.

The study found:

  • Among GPs without previous experience of mental health issues, 84% thought they would disclose it
  • But among GPs who had experienced mental health issues, only 39% had disclosed it
  • Combining both groups, 61% of GPs said they would disclose or had disclosed mental health issues (compared to 62% of consultants, 51% of trainees and 49% of locums).

The paper, published in Occupational Medicine, concluded that ’[f]or all doctors, regardless of role, this study found that what they think they would do is different to what they actually do when they become unwell’.

It added: ’Trainees, staff and associate speciality doctors and locums appeared most vulnerable, being reluctant to disclose mental ill health. Doctors continued to have concerns about disclosure and a lack of care pathways was evident.

'Concerns about being labelled, confidentiality and not understanding the support structures available were identified as key obstacles to disclosure. Addressing obstacles and enablers is imperative to shape future interventions.'

The survey responses also suggested that English doctors are more likely to suffer mental health issues than doctors in the devolved health administrations.

Including all types of doctors, not just GPs, the number who said they had suffered mental health issues was 60% in Wales, 45% in Scotland, 55% in Northern Ireland and 82% in England.

Readers' comments (5)

  • Interesting this comes out at the same time as the ePortfolio being used as evidence against a trainee....who would've thought there'd be correlation.

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  • Why on earth should anyone admit to mental diseases in this world of patients data being so unprotected. What would be their incentive?

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  • It is coming to the stage that doctors should never open up to anyone medical about mental illnesses as otherwise any information may be held against them now or in the future.
    What good is this? Who will this help? Certainly not the poor old doctors as they dont want to be struck off.
    It is a form of descrimination and abuse against doctors. This cannot be fair under the european human laws.

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  • There's no better way to discourage an honest discourse between professionals regarding both professional and health issues than to ostracize and better still report the person to GMC.
    It is appalling that a Trainer who should have advised and guided a trainee actually took the step to bury him/her alive.
    It would be quite interesting to know what the reason was but it does set out a dangerous precedent which is absolutely not helpful.

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  • I fell ill with severe depression during the final year of the VTS year,no one noticed .I still worked but under par.my depression waxed and waned in cycles over the years. As a young gp in Manchester on a 1-2 rota i became ill again,I got hold of some anti depressants from a patient who returned them. I can still remember the moment i realized the depression was lifting,I was shocked ,I could think logically, i no longer wanted to die,slowly i got better.Luckily i had a good supply of anti depressants.I still worked and i do not believe that i was a danger to patients.I was very hard working and diligent .After stopping the tablets the depression returned . By coincidence I attended a lecture from a local psychiatrist who explained that depression is a recurrent illness and that people who have three or more episodes should be on lifelong medication,not the standard six months that was then recommended,it was a lightbulb moment.Looking back i realized that I was a "text book" case.This time I did not have access to tablets from a patient,so I did see my own doctor who was most sympathetic and prescribed anti depressants and referred me for psychotherapy. However due to being a full time gp it was so difficult to fit in,I just paid privately. However it took years for me to recover and i firmly believe without anti depressants I would have had to stop work.Its the medication that turned my life around,so i have full sympathy with doctors who self medicate.My gp was very sympathetic and neither did she nor the psychotherapy department refer me to the GMC. For what reason is this fitness to practice? Depression is so common,if a quarter of the adult population get it then what shall we do? Stop one quarter of all doctors and all medical staff from working? The vilification does not make sense.If however I had been referred to the GMC I would have gone under. Depression is bad enough without this judge and jury. Do we have evidence that depressed doctors are a danger? Moreover if a person responds to anti depressants and becomes well why the investigation? The whole point of being on anti depressants is that they make you better and hence no longer depressed. So i totally understand self prescribers,and why they do not wish to see their own GP.

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