Following the National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students conducted by beyondblue, doctors and medical students were identified as a group at high risk of poor mental health. Research highlights consistently high rates of suicide, depression, anxiety disorders, substance use and self-prescribing in the profession. The report notes that if doctors are not effectively dealing with mental health issues that they are experiencing, this may impact their ability to deliver the best possible medical care to patients.
Previous research has identified a number of factors which may contribute to the risk of mental health problems in doctors. These include the challenging work environment, which often requires long working hours and high intensity work, effort-reward imbalance, home-work stress, and regular exposure to pain, suffering and death. At the same time, doctors and students, by virtue of their training and their positions, are expected to have good knowledge of mental health problems, their early symptoms, the most effective treatment options and how to effectively access treatment services when required. While the mental health status of the entire medical community is of interest, a number of potentially at-risk groups have been identified. These include female doctors who may have to balance greater personal and family demands, particularly during child-bearing years, in comparison with their male colleagues. A second group identified as particularly vulnerable to poor mental health is young graduates. The transition from university to work is associated with long work hours, ongoing study requirements, and need for the rapid development of clinical skills in a stressful and challenging environment. Finally, minority groups such as overseas trained medical professionals, Indigenous doctors and students, and those working in rural and remote areas, where greater independence may be required with reduced access to support networks, have been identified as groups who may be particularly vulnerable to psychological distress. While doctors and medical students are highly educated, have good knowledge of mental health conditions and access to services, it has previously been identified that there may be a number of barriers to seeking treatment for mental health problems. These barriers include perceptions of stigmatising attitudes regarding medical professionals with mental health conditions, lack of confidentiality and privacy, concerns about career progression and potential impacts on patients and colleagues, embarrassment and concerns regarding professional integrity. Further, it has previously been identified that many doctors have a negative attitude towards fellow practitioners with depression. This attitude may prevent doctors with mental health symptoms from seeking help and support from colleagues [National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students, beyondblue October 2013].
To bring these issues to light, The Doctor Dash event aims to de-stigmatise mental illness in the medical community. By coming together in support of each other, with colleagues, friends and family, the event aims to reduce barriers to, and encourage, help-seeking behaviour. This can be done through increased awareness of the issues affecting doctors, medical students, nurses, allied health professionals and practice managers. We are all in this together!
Coupled with this awareness is the promotion of the benefits of exercise in the prevention and treatment of mental illness - along with other common and often serious medical conditionals such as arthritis, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and many cancers.
Finally, the event will help raise money for beyondblue to continue their fantastic work, providing information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live.