In today’s world, almost everyone is familiar with the terms anxiety and depression. No one is free from these ailments. Yet as an iceberg phenomenon, these mental diseases are underestimated, under-diagnosed, and under-treated. Anxiety and depression cast a negative stigma on personal and professional life. This is especially true for physicians, who are believed to be infallible. But the majority of people, including healthcare professionals, are not ready to accept screening or treatment for mental health problems.
The term “anxiety” was first used in the fifteenth century as “physical strain.” Later in 1869, George Miller Beard, the first successful American author in the field of psychiatry, described neurasthenia, or mental exhaustion, and attributed it to modern civilization. Its symptoms were manifold, ranging from general malaise, neuralgic pains, hysteria, and hypochondriasis to symptoms of anxiety and chronic depression. Since then, we’ve come to learn that psychological troubles affect more people than we ever thought, even physicians.
Physicians work in highly demanding, stress-filled jobs where they’re often responsible for making quick life and death decisions. While a little anxiety is normal, a lot can take a heavy toll on your health, professional satisfaction, and work-life balance.
Doctors, by the virtue of their job, are at enhanced risk of carrying mental health challenges, which may cause or exacerbate anxiety and depression. Mental health issues among doctors are mostly overlooked not only by the public but also by the doctors themselves.
Hand-in-hand with anxiety and depression is physician burnout, another significant issue rampant in the healthcare world, affecting young residents, nurses, and even experienced surgeons. And physicians today have one of the highest suicide rates among any profession!
Too many physicians, especially trainees, suffer in silence—afraid to ask for help for fear that they will be punished professionally, if not personally. Raising awareness about the issue would allow doctors to begin removing the stigma of mental health treatment.
If you think you are suffering from anxiety, there are ways you can help yourself; you do not need to suffer unnecessarily. Consider the following:
- Whether you have an illness or not, whenever you move to a new area, identify and register with a GP (general practitioner) you trust and are comfortable with.
- Identify strategies that help you deal with the stress of medicine in appropriate ways; it could be through exercise, breathing exercises, yoga, relaxation techniques, or meditation. There are many apps that you could download for self-guided, short, at-home meditation or yoga.
- Find time to do the things you love—make this a part of your life.
- Find a physician friend or mentor with whom you can be completely honest. Best put this in place before there is a real need.
- Seek help early rather than later and do not try to self-diagnose, or worse, to self-treat.
- Access a psychologist whom you trust to teach you the psychological strategies to understand and reduce anxiety.
- Access online programs to support your care. Many employers or health plans offer these types of programs.
- If you are concerned about a clinical competency and this is causing anxiety, ensure that you are properly trained in the area. Feeling appropriately confident and competent can greatly reduce anxiety.
- If you feel your work is compromised, consider taking time off until you are better. It’s ok to say NO.
Support colleagues who are distressed—they need your love and support, not judgment.
By: Sonal R. Patel, M.D., M.S.
Dr. Patel is a MedStudy contributor who has worked on a variety of Pediatrics learning tools.