New survey results from Mind shows that 40% of GP’s are living with a personal mental health issue, and many feel unable to ask for support in the workplace

Mind have raised concerns over the mental health of GPs and the support available to them, following the results of a survey conducted earlier this year in which 40% of GP’s surveyed said that they had a mental health issue, such as PTSD, anxiety or depression.

While 86% of those GPs surveyed said that they would look for support from friends and family, less than half would confide in their colleagues and only 33% would seek support from their practice manager.

A statement by Mind suggests that there are a number of reasons for the high prevalence of mental health issues among GP’s including the pressure of a demanding workload and the associated stress.

Vicki Nash, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mind, shared her concerns following the outcome of this research, saying:

"People with mental health problems – and especially those working within healthcare – can and do make a valuable contribution to the workplace, but it’s really important that they’re able to get any support they need. Our research shows a lot of primary care professionals don’t feel comfortable talking to peers and colleagues if they’re struggling with their mental health.

"It needs to be ok for health care staff to talk about their mental health. Like anyone else, they need and should have support"

"Working in healthcare doesn’t make it any easier to talk about your mental health at work. In fact, concerns over fitness to practice can make it harder. It needs to be ok for health care staff to talk about their mental health. Like anyone else, they need and should have support."

Following Mind’s survey Dr Zoe Neill, a portfolio GP who now coaches and appraises doctors, shared her personal experiences in the hope of helping others. Zoe previously worked full-time as a GP but changed her role after being diagnosed with PTSD, depression and anxiety - all related to her work as a doctor. Zoe says she started to recognise the signs of these mental health conditions in herself after treating patients with the same issues.

As Zoe points out, however, it wasn’t just patients and herself she has identified as experiencing mental illnesses "I've also come across a number of mentally unwell GPs who are still working when they're not well enough. Some GPs are automatically put on performance management for being unwell or are subjected to meetings with their GP partners where their fitness for work is assessed.

"Mental health problems are extremely common in general practitioners but the shame associated with disclosing is immense. Clinicians are not supposed to be unwell themselves. It’s really important for everyone that the Government urgently address the root causes of stress in the NHS, often lack of control of workloads is key."

Dr Alison Payne, who experienced burnout from work-related stress agrees support regarding workload and stress is necessary. “Lots of GP’s - including me - are kept awake at night worrying about patients and what we might have missed or not done, because we are trying to juggle so many things.

"People working in GP surgeries are generally good at looking after each other but real change needs to come from Government. The current workload just isn't tenable."

"People working in GP surgeries are generally good at looking after each other but real change needs to come from Government. The current workload just isn't tenable. It's not just about face time with patients, GPs need to have knowledge about a huge range of topics so ongoing education is important, and then there's the paperwork. It's a shame, but it's no surprise that more and more GPs are cutting down their hours or leaving general practice altogether."

The British Medical Association (BMA), the trade and professional body for doctors in the UK noted that other factors could be at play too. Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, BMA GP committee executive team workforce lead, said:

“Given the intense pressure GPs are under to meet rising patient demand with inadequate resources it is no surprise that their own mental health is suffering as a result. Other concerns over the spiralling costs of indemnity and premises issues will understandably also lead to much stress and anxiety for GPs.

"Mind’s report is extremely concerning and highlights the need for better support for GPs and their teams. The BMA is calling for a properly-funded universal occupational health service, so that GPs and the wider practice staff are able to access the support they need, and in turn are better equipped to care for their patients. After all, no one wants to be treated by a sick doctor, and strains on clinicians’ mental health will only lead to more turning away from the profession.

"However, as we know with the majority of illnesses, prevention is better than cure, and therefore more must be done to tackle the root cause of anxiety and depression among GPs, by addressing the unmanageable and often unsafe workloads they face day-in, day-out."

The statement by BMA echoes Mind’s assertion that the Government needs to take further steps to proactively protect the mental health of GP’s as well as all other healthcare professionals.

The Government and NHS England are already taking steps to address the high rates of poor mental health among GPs, including setting up NHS GP Health Service, which provides confidential support for GPs and Trainee GPs, including a helpline 6 days a week and email support as well as the option of self-referral for an assessment (usually provided within 48 hours).

Literature for the service states "GPH is a confidential service, which seeks to protect doctor-patients from the stigma associated with mental ill health and addiction. GPH aims to get doctor-patients healthy and working, whilst safeguarding their patients, making sure the doctor is well enough to see patients safely." It further notes that 88.1% of users remain in, or returned to work, during contact with NHS Practioner Health Programme which hosts the GP Health Service.

Mind continues to call on the Government and NHS to go further to tackle the work-related causes of stress and poor mental health such as excessive workload and long hours.

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Research reference: Mind surveyed 1066 GPs in England and Wales (of whom 100 were working in Wales) from January-March 2018. Respondents were a self-selecting sample who completed the survey online.