01:10 am, Friday 18 January, 2013
The range and severity of mental health risks to rural doctors and medical students will be gauged as part of a national beyondblue survey starting February. The survey will include 8,000 students and 40,000 doctors, including all doctors working in rural areas.
In a statement, Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) Academic Director, Associate Professor Lucie Walters said that rural doctors and medical students are facing the risk of assuming they should be totally in control of their own health or at least appear to be in control.
“Because we are in a unique position managing the health of a community of patients, we are at risk of assuming we should be fully in control of our own health, or at least be seen to be in control,” said Dr Walters, who’s also a practicing rural GP-obstetrician in Mt Gambier, South Australia.
“We often share our community’s unrealistically high expectations of ourselves, yet we are just as vulnerable as anyone to depression and anxiety.”
Dr Walters will be representing the college on beyondblue’s Expert Reference Group for the beyondblue Doctor’s Mental Health Program.
A literature review, The Mental Health of Doctors, published in 2010 found that:
- Suicide rates for male doctors was 26% above the general population rate, while female doctors had a 146% higher risk of suicide
- Medical practitioners were less likely to seek help from colleagues because of concerns about stigma, career development, impact on patients, or sheer embarrassment
- No Australian studies examining the mental health of Indigenous and rural doctors
“Rural practice is such a rich and rewarding field to work in. But we must be realistic about our individual capacity to sustain a career, personal relationships, and our health,” said Dr Walters.
“To know what mental health risks for rural doctors and students need to be addressed, we must have good, current data. beyondblue is the ideal organisation to design and commission such a survey.”
She said that as the lead college in rural practice training, ACRRM will encourage all rural doctors and medical students to complete the survey to allow researchers to produce a detailed, useful picture of risks and possible solutions.
“Ultimately, the wellbeing of entire communities and regions depend on the sustainability of quality medical services. The linchpin of those services is the rural generalists. Their mental health and general wellbeing is therefore of national strategic significance,” she said.