Viewpoint: Mental health - leading by example

Insight editor and senior medico-legal adviser Dr Greg Dollman talks about the importance of taking the time to reflect on our own mental health while also providing support and care to others

LONG overdue, mental health is no longer a taboo. Talking about it is encouraged.

GPs have mental health needs too and campaigns such as Movember (focusing on men’s health issues during the month of November) and October’s World Mental Health Day (WMHD) are opportunities to pause and consider how to spread the word with colleagues, particularly by example.

Campaigns like these are more than just fleeting awareness exercises, they’re an opportunity to reflect on how to look after your own mental health while providing support and care to others.

Many authoritative organisations working with and for doctors encourage them to take care of their wellbeing. MDDUS is proud to work with these organisations to protect, and improve support for doctors.

Increasing pressures

Compassion, commitment and conscientiousness are admirable personal and professional characteristics. They are also characteristics that make GPs vulnerable to the stresses that arise in their demanding roles. The increasing pressures on primary care services are readily apparent, and all too often GPs find themselves struggling.

MDDUS, a medical defence organisation founded by and for healthcare professionals, recognises the increasing demands GPs have faced in recent times along with the challenges that the changing nature of healthcare brings. An MDDUS member survey during the height of the pandemic highlighted the heavy toll Covid-19 is taking on clinicians’ wellbeing and morale.

In my role as a medico-legal adviser, I have witnessed the mental health stresses that GPs face in their everyday practice, which can have a significant impact on their professional and personal lives.

GPs’ commitment to patients and the profession means that sometimes they neglect their own mental health and wellbeing. Working extended hours and cancelling holidays might appear to help tackle the seemingly endless workload, but the negative effect of both on work-life balance and on a doctor’s health can be serious.

In a recent article on burnout I urged GPs to stop, take stock and seek help with the issues they face. Do not just soldier on regardless. There is help available. For example, MDDUS has advice for GPs on improving their health and wellbeing, while the GMC lists a range of support services for doctors.

GPs should consider also whether they could benefit from support for other issues, such as money difficulties or relationship problems.

Free support service for MDDUS members

I find that GPs need extra support when their practice is under scrutiny either as a result of a clinical incident or complaint, an inquest or inquiry process, or a disciplinary or regulatory investigation.

As well as providing our members with medico-legal advice and assistance, MDDUS has, in partnership with healthcare rm, developed a free and confidential health and wellbeing service called YourHalo: Emotional Wellbeing.

We recognise that concern about wellbeing is a theme that will not diminish unless all doctors are given the time, training and support to recover from the impact of the pandemic. It has never been more important for GPs to consider what they need to care for their mental wellbeing.

Professional duty

While some GPs might be reluctant to seek help for their own mental or physical health, it is important to bear in mind that all doctors also have a professional duty to do so. The GMC, in its guidance Good medical practice, reminds doctors that they have a responsibility to ensure they are fit (in the health sense of the word) to practise. Doctors must be prepared to seek outside support if their difficulties may impact on patient safety.

Thinking about tomorrow

Campaigns such as WMHD and Movember are also an opportunity to consider what more needs to be done to promote mental health and improve access to care.

Projects within the medical profession that look at the role of the doctor in the future and the challenges that lie ahead recognise the need to prioritise clinician wellbeing. While reflecting on your health and wellbeing today, you may wish to think also about tomorrow and what help you may need.

Patients and the profession need GPs and their compassion, commitment and conscientiousness. Take the time to look after yourself – every day of the year.

Dr Greg Dollman is Insight editor and a senior medico-legal adviser at MDDUS

For registration, or any login issues, please visit our login page.