BEING unwell does not sit easily with doctors. Having been told since antiquity to “heal thyself”, the belief that they are somehow impervious to illness – and that asking for help may be perceived as weakness – runs deep.
The charity, Doctors in Distress, was founded by Amandip Sidhu (pictured) following the death by suicide of his brother in 2018. Jagdip was a consultant cardiologist, had a happy family life and his death came as a total shock.
“My brother took his life in such a way that I knew he wanted to send a message,” says Amandip. “In the months after his death, I discovered that Jagdip was burnt out, overworked and did not feel like he could talk about the stresses and pressures that he was feeling at work for fear of recrimination.
“I later discovered that this is endemic in the NHS. The stigma around talking about mental wellbeing is very prevalent and embedded in the culture of our healthcare service.”
Amandip set up Doctors in Distress to ensure that all healthcare workers – not just doctors – could receive support well before they reached the point of choosing to take their own life.
“Doctors are human too,” says Amandip. “Had my brother been able to reach out and get the right level of help he needed without fear of retribution or judgment, he would be alive today.”
In April 2020, Dame Clare Gerada became the chair of Doctors in Distress, and in October 2020 the first support groups were launched. The charity has now run over 20 series of support groups in addition to a wide range of standalone webinars and events.
In January 2022, Doctors in Distress launched a campaign calling for all healthcare workers to have access to at least one hour per month of contracted time for them to take care of their own wellbeing.
With the current workload that NHS workers are facing across the system, this may appear challenging. However, the importance of this time is essential. We are already seeing higher than ever levels of burnout, early retirement and stress-related illness.
According to ONS statistics, in 2020 alone there were 230 suicides in the healthcare profession across England and Wales. We know that if we do not prioritise the mental wellbeing of the healthcare workforce, we will lose more healthcare workers from the NHS and the quality of patient care will be impacted.
Whilst our campaign of protected time for all healthcare staff remains a work in progress, the charity will continue to run support groups and other programmes. Doctors in Distress offers spaces for healthcare workers to chat with peers, to guide, support and empower through conversations in a confidential environment. Most of our participants do not have any diagnosed mental health condition; they just need a space to share their thoughts and feel a sense of belonging in a potentially otherwise isolating work environment.
These groups are open to clinical and non-clinical staff working in both primary and secondary care, including nurses, paramedics and students.
We’re pleased to have had positive feedback from those who have contacted the charity for help and hope to source further funding to continue these vital services:
“We had a lot of conversations. Everyone could ask or say anything that was on their minds. We were laughing and crying; I found the whole experience very cathartic.”
“It has been a supportive space and sharing has helped validate difficult experiences and emotions.”
“I felt safe; it felt a blessed relief within weeks of business around me.”
The pressure facing our healthcare workers is ever increasing. It’s essential we continue to support those who give so much to care for us. Follow the links below to find out more about how to engage with and support Doctors in Distress.
Find out more about Doctors in Distress:
- Web: doctors-in-distress.org.uk
- Twitter: @DoctorsDistress
- Facebook: Doctors in Distress
- Donate: www.justgiving.com/doctors-in-distress
MDDUS members can also access our free, confidential support service, YourHalo, which is available 24/7.