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

  • Date: 26 January 2022

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

Doctors have mental health needs too and recent 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 doctors vulnerable to the stresses that arise in their demanding roles. The increasing pressures on all healthcare services are readily apparent, and all too often doctors find themselves struggling.

MDDUS, a medical defence organisation founded by and for healthcare professionals, recognises the increasing demands doctors 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 doctors face in everyday practice, and the significant impact these stresses can have on their professional and personal lives.

Their commitment to patients and the profession means that sometimes doctors 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 effects of this on both work-life balance and on health can be serious.

In a recent article on burnout, I urged doctors 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 doctors on improving their health and wellbeing, while the GMC lists a range of support services.

Consideration should also be given to the support available for other issues, such as money difficulties or relationship problems.

Free support service for MDDUS members

Doctors often 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 doctors to consider what they need to care for their mental wellbeing.

Professional duty

While some doctors might be reluctant to seek help for their own mental or physical health, it is important to bear in mind that all doctors 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 support if their difficulties could 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 going forward.

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 doctors of all specialties and their compassion, commitment and conscientiousness. Take the time to look after yourself – every day of the year.

Dr Greg Dollman, Insight editor and senior medico-legal adviser, MDDUS

This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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