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Two in five GPs have experienced mental health problems, finds survey

Two in five GPs have suffered from a mental health condition, according to a survey of over 1,000 GPs.

The survey, carried out by mental health charity Mind, revealed that 40% had experienced mental health problems, including conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

It also found that GPs are more likely to turn to friends and family for support than their own doctor.

The BMA GP Committee has urged for more action on tackling the ‘unmanageable’ and ‘unsafe’ workloads which are damaging GP mental health.

Mind carried out the survey between January and March this year, with 966 GPs from England and 100 from Wales taking part.

The responses highlighted that GPs were more likely to look for support with their mental health from friends and family (86%), rather than their own doctor (79%).

Far fewer would turn to their colleagues (48%), practice manager (33%) or professional bodies such as the GMC (1%).

The charity has argued that this is due to concerns over fitness to practise, and stigma around GPs getting ill.

In response, it is calling for the Government and NHS to take additional steps to tackle work-related causes of stress and poor mental health, such as excessive workload and long hours. 

CCGs and practices are also being asked to implement workplace policies and procedures to better promote staff wellbeing.

GPs speak out about mental ill health

Dr Alison Payne, a part-time GP in Coventry, who ‘would not still be practising’ if she had remained full-time:

People working in GP surgeries are generally good at looking after each other but real change needs to come from Government. The current workload just isn’t tenable. It’s not just about face time with patients, GPs need to have knowledge about a huge range of topics so ongoing education is important, and then there’s the paperwork. It’s a shame, but it’s no surprise that more and more GPs are cutting down their hours or leaving general practice altogether.

North Yorkshire GP Dr Zoe Neill, who was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder whilst practising: 

Mental health problems are extremely common in GPs but the shame associated with disclosing is immense. Clinicians are not supposed to be unwell themselves.

Source: Mind

Mind’s head of policy and campaigns Vicki Nash said: ‘Working in healthcare doesn’t make it any easier to talk about your mental health at work. In fact, concerns over fitness to practice can make it harder. It needs to be ok for health care staff to talk about their mental health. Like anyone else, they need and should have support.’

BMA GP Committee workforce lead Dr Krishna Kasaraneni said: ‘This report is extremely concerning and highlights the need for better support for GPs and their teams.

‘The BMA is calling for a properly-funded universal occupational health service, so that GPs and the wider practice staff are able to access the support they need, and in turn are better equipped to care for their patients. After all, no one wants to be treated by a sick doctor, and strains on clinicians’ mental health will only lead to more turning away from the profession.

‘However, as we know with the majority of illnesses, prevention is better than cure, and therefore more must be done to tackle the root cause of anxiety and depression among GPs, by addressing the unmanageable and often unsafe workloads they face day-in, day-out.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Given the intense pressures currently facing general practice, this very high proportion of GPs living with mental health problems is deeply concerning, but not a total surprise…

‘Being a GP can be the best job in the world, but only when we’re given the resources to do it properly – no one should have to work in an environment which puts their own health at risk, least of all their mental health and wellbeing.’

The RCGP reported this year that one in four GPs in the UK’s devolved nations are so stressed that they feel unable to cope at least once a week.

And last year Pulse revealed that one in nine GPs has turned to alcohol because of work pressures, while 6% have turned to prescription drugs.

Charities have also argued that GPs should get two mental health days a year to prevent stress escalating into a long-term issue.

Pulse previously launched a campaign called Battling Burnout, which aims to highlight GP burnout and stress, both within and outside of the profession. 

Following the campaign, the Government has funded the national GP mental health service for support, which allows any registered GP with a mental health issue to refer themselves by phone or online.


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