Photo from L to R:
Ankita Batla, Claire Gillis, CEO VMLY&Rx, Daniel Gearon
You Okay, Doc? A call for more awareness and support for the mental health of doctors
October 8, 2021 by Iona Everson
On World Mental Health Day (10 October), medical health charity You Okay, Doc? and heath communications agency VMLY&Rx pledge their support to physicians worldwide, calling for more awareness and support for the mental health of doctors.
The collaboration follows interim findings from a new qualitative study from VMLY&Rx that suggests junior doctors continue to receive inadequate support for their mental health. The top-line findings, based on face-to-face interviews with junior doctors in the UK, highlight the need for:
Clearer mental health signposting at the start of – and throughout – medical training
More proactive mental health support within medical schools and hospitals
Greater awareness of mental health support for doctors in hospitals
A cultural shift away from stigma and stoicism across the profession that dissuades doctors from reaching out for mental health support in fear of a negative impact on their career
Addressing the issues of hierarchy, gender and ethnic bias that present additional barriers to seeking support.
The early findings of the VMLY&Rx study mirror evidence from You Okay, Doc? and recent literature reviews that reveal a systemic failure to support the mental health of doctors on an international scale. The latest research comes against a backdrop of escalating rates of mental ill health and suicide among doctors and coincides with increased pressure on front-line staff as they help manage the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study’s author – Dr Ankita Batla, Chief Medical Office Lead, Health Insights & Patient Partnerships, VMLY&Rx – says the early findings underline the urgent need for improved training, better working conditions and increased support for medical professionals.
Batla said: “Our initial findings confirm that we provide inadequate mental health support for doctors and physicians. The interviews we conducted revealed systemic failures further exasperated by a culture of fear and pseudo-heroism that forces many doctors to feel too guilty or ashamed to ask for mental health support.
“Our findings only reinforce evidence from You Okay, Doc? and evidence-based studies all over the world. In the UK alone, a doctor dies by suicide every 3-4 weeks. Those in the medical community have suffered unimaginable pressures on their mental health during the last two years. While we can all recognise their unique contribution to our societies, we must also recognise the unique mental health pressures they face as a result.”
Dr Daniel Gearon, Founder and CEO, You Okay, Doc? said: “We have a real crisis on our hands. The occupational hazard of being a doctor or a frontline emergency worker is the constant exposure to trauma, to illness, to grief. Of course there are the highs of saving lives and of improving lives. However, the job itself and the environment surrounding it requires more support than is currently available.
“Stressed and burnt-out doctors and healthcare workers will inevitably perform sub-optimally and this could have a negative impact on any of us when we or a loved one has to be treated. We founded You Okay, Doc? to support the very people who underpin the health of our communities.”
In a survey of 154 healthcare professionals and medical school students conducted by
You Okay, Doc? and First Responders First, an initiative of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Thrive Global and the CAA Foundation, between September and December 2020, comparison of respondents’ self-reported mental health levels pre- and post-pandemic showed clear trends:
The number of respondents who said they felt ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ anxious, depressed and/or burnt out increased from 22% to 37%
The number who responded ‘slightly’ or ‘not at all’ decreased from 45.5% to 34%.
Final analysis of the VMLY&Rx research is due to be published in late 2021. It is expected to include recommendations for:
Better medical training to include greater focus on mental health
Designated mental health support
Improved organisational structure, processes and working practices to allow for absence and certification