“Depression is insidious. It sneaks up and can take you down in an instant,” states Dr. Kaplan who has experienced severe depression after a friend of hers committed suicide. She faced this situation when she was an intern in the 1970s and expresses that she felt “so guilty” that she almost quit her internship (4).
Depression is a common form of psychological disorder that is faced at least once during the lifetime of 20 to 40 percent of the world’s population (2). Despite being so common, it can bring serious consequences affecting one’s health, work performance, and social relationships. It can also make one more vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse, and may eventually lead to death by suicide. Health care practitioners and medical students relate to having a lower quality of life and higher burnout rates. This may explain why close to 27% of healthcare workers have symptoms of depression compared to the 18% of the general population in the present day (5). Higher suicide rates exist among physicians than the general population, possibly as a result of depression. 400 physicians in the U.S. reportedly commit suicide every year, yet it is hard to verify the exact number since medical schools refuse to reveal such information (5).
A study conducted by a psychologist named Ansoleaga in 2015 assessed the psychosocial risks related to depression and psychotropic drug use among healthcare providers. It asked 782 workers in the healthcare field to answer a questionnaire that would determine their level of stress and state of mental health. According to the results, 25% of participants admitted to having used drugs such as antidepressants to treat a psychological condition and 34% had a high level of stress while 23% had depressive symptoms. Moreover, close to half of the surveyed participants reported having high emotional demands, low social support, and an imbalance between invested efforts and received rewards which increased their chances of developing depression. It was concluded that such factors lead to high psychosocial distress among healthcare providers (3).
It is true that given the nature of work that healthcare practitioners handle it is almost impossible to avoid high levels of stress and psychosocial risks related to depression. There should, however, be more research for implementation of solutions to these issues and consideration of ways in which the workers can cope and alleviate themselves of such distress. A mental health nurse practitioner who had much clinical experience expressed how she was not prepared for depression when it hit her in 2001. Leaving the symptoms untreated worsened her situation until she broke down and decided to seek help. She explained how the services provided by her workplace were once reliable and beneficial – it allowed her to book appointments with psychiatrist away from her work to secure her of confidentiality. However, more recently, she has seen a degradation of these services due to budgetary restrictions. She could only book for appointments in the hospital where she worked for which led to those whom she worked with seeing her visit to the psychiatrist. She felt it to be a “demoralizing and dehumanizing experience” and demands that there should be a better system of ensuring the health and safety of healthcare workers (1).
Organizational changes such as reduction of work schedule and a better system of mental health awareness may be a necessary step to resolving stress-related issues such as depression and suicide in the healthcare community. However, there is a lack of research studies that investigate specific interventions. Further research into the well-being of these workers will reap benefit including increased empathy toward patients. Surely, the mental health of any healthcare provider should be of priority in all healthcare systems.
Written by JULIE CHO / Image by KATHERINE TANG
References: 1. A. (2015, May 11). I work in mental health but colleagues don’t understand my depression. Retrieved November 06, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/views-from-the-nhs-frontline/2015/may/11/mental-health-colleagues-dont-understand-depression
2. Amilcar, A. (2015, May 01). Stress and suicide among healthcare workers. Retrieved November 06, 2017, from https://www.students4bestevidence.net/occupational-stress-among-health-workers/
3. Ansoleaga, E. (2015, January). [Psychosocial stress among healthcare workers]. Retrieved November 06, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25860268
4. Kaplan, J. A. (2015, January 15). How Physicians, Health Care Workers Can Handle Depression, Burnout, and Suicidal Thoughts. Retrieved November 06, 2017, from http://www.acepnow.com/article/how-physicians-health-care-workers-can-handle-depression-burnout-and-suicidal-thoughts/
5. Kaplan, R. (n.d.). Depression in Health Care Workers. Retrieved November 06, 2017, from http://www.academia.edu/4919603/Depression_in_Health_Care_Workers