Mental Health Issues : A Growing Concern for Junior Doctors

Physicians experience extreme levels of work-related stress even under ordinary circumstances. During the COVID 19 pandemic which began not too long ago, the amount of stress and pressure experienced by doctors and healthcare workers skyrocketed. There is irrefutable evidence and statistics obtained through numerous studies which conclude that such heightened levels of pressure and work stress increase one’s susceptibility of developing a mental health condition.

Why Doctors are Viewed as Heroes 

What’s a hero? A hero is someone who runs towards the direction of danger while others are running from it. A real-life testament to this quote would be healthcare workers who are exposing themselves to different contagious viruses and hospital-acquired infections on a daily basis. Besides the risk to their physical health, most doctors are also at higher risk of developing mental illnesses due to the excessive amounts of anxiety, pressure, and burnout that they face in their day to day lives.

The Importance of Seeking Help 

“Just because no one else can heal or do your inner work for you does not mean you can, should, or need to do it alone.” states therapist and renowned author Lisa Olivera

During times of adversities, many physicians face the conundrum or dilemma of whether or not to seek help regarding their mental health. Most of the time they end up being reluctant to disclose personal information pertaining to their mental health due to the fear of being stigmatized. 

When this happens, the individual’s state of mind may take a turning for the worse leading to a downward spiral of anxiety, clinical depression, and even suicide. Furthermore, the recent addition of the Hippocratic Oath which has been ratified unanimously by the World Medical Association allows doctors to prioritize their own health as well as that of their patients. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to address the mental health struggles faced by doctors.

Struggles Faced by Junior Doctors

“I honestly contemplated ending my life at that point”, said Dr Lee when asked about the hurdles and obstacles faced during her years of housemanship.

Dr Lee who successfully completed her housemanship further elucidated regarding the harsh realities of going through housemanship. “It was an endless cycle of sleep-deprived hard work with barely any time for leisure”, she further stated. There are many other junior doctors who have similar experiences as Dr Lee. Some believe that the strenuous schedule of physicians puts unnecessary stress and pressure on young doctors who are merely trying to build a career for themselves. This can take a toll on not just an individual’s physical health but also their mental health. Therefore, mental health associated with physicians has become a primary concern for junior doctors who are about to enter the healthcare field.

“Overworked, sleep-deprived, underpaid” – these are the  words of choice for many a junior doctor, who are just starting out with their medical careers.

A survey done in Queensland, Australia found that over half of  719 doctors in training were concerned with making a clinical error due to tiredness. This, coupled with the rigors of long shifts while handling multiple patients and learning new skills create a stressful work environment that becomes unbearable. 

How the Pandemic Made Things Worse for Doctors

The pandemic further exacerbated these conditions by making an already bad scenario that much worse. During the height of the COVID 19 pandemic, almost half of all junior doctors in the UK reported symptoms of severe depression. This can severely impact their ability to treat patients. The guardian reported a story where a GP trainee made an error while she was 9 hours into her shift – a shift that should have ended an hour ago. She had been working non-stop with no breaks and no food and made the mistake of not entering a crucial medication allergy that resulted in a patient needing to undergo additional treatment for what should have been a routine procedure. This not only caused distress to the patient but also to the doctor as she was severely shaken up by the incident and still has not forgiven herself for it. 

Medical errors such as these are easy to avoid in a perfect system.  However, as we continue to ignore these issues, they will cause more harm to both healthcare providers and receivers.

Harsh Working Conditions for Physicians in Malaysia

In an article published in The Star, Malaysian junior doctors were interviewed about their schedules and workload. Their answers will shock you! One junior doctor worked an average of 100 hours a week. The day starts as early as 4 am and ends at around 10pm, leaving little time to spend with family, pursue a hobby, or even get an adequate amount of sleep. 

This severe work-life imbalance leads to junior doctors being driven to the extremes as they come face to face with hurdles which they are ill equipped to handle. The result is a young doctor who struggles to keep up with what is being demanded of them. They are also  unable to seek help due to the stigma associated with healthcare workers suffering mental health issues.  This toxic culture of pretending to be immune to anxiety and depression is unfortunately but one of the issues. According to The New Straits Times “Bullying of housemen is an open secret”. This highlights a system where junior doctors are not only overworked but also left to fend for themselves against harassment by seniors with little to no support. 

Get the Help You Need Because You Matter!

The prevalence of mental health problems and disorders is always going to be high among junior doctors but the realization of just how common they are, their normalization, and the de-stigmatization is something which is only now starting to happen. Medical professionals need to be equipped with stress management skills and the stigma associated with mental disorders must be eradicated. By imposing the necessary action plans to combat mental health issues faced by healthcare workers, doctors would be less susceptible to developing mental health issues. They would be more passionate about their jobs. So please, if you’re a doctor who is currently experiencing excessive mental stress and pressure, reach out and get the help you need!

This article was written  by Tanya Tharrini, Ambigavalli Grant, and Nisal Nawarathne of the International Medical University (IMU), Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur.

To find out more about non-clinical jobs for doctors in Malaysia check out our job vacancy and find inspiration from medical doctors who’ve made a career change in our case studies. Check out Medic Footprints Malaysia , and follow our MF Malaysia Instagram and Facebook pages to stay updated on our events, webinars, job vacancies and more.

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