A lot of people may assume that doctors are so knowledgeable about health that they don't need any help taking care of themselves.
However, the truth is that some physicians and other health care providers may work so hard to take care of other people's health can sometimes get so overwhelmed that they don't take the time to meet their own needs.
A December 2015 study published in the Journal of The American Medical Association found that around 30% of all young doctors have depression. Frequently, high levels of stigma that doctors shouldn't have problems with mental illness leads to self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. A 2012 study found that as much as 25% of female surgeons had a serious alcohol dependence disorder.
Dual diagnosis of depression and addiction is a challenge for anyone, but if the sufferer is a doctor, the condition comes with its own difficulties. Fortunately, as the issue is coming out of the shadows and more into our awareness, there are more and more resources for treatment, recovery, and healing.
In a video made for Healthcare Triage, Dr. Aaron Carroll speaks about facing challenges with depression even as an intern beginning his medical training. He felt anxious, overwhelmed, and found it hard to have joy. His mood interfered with his work, because it made it difficult to connect with patients or stay engaged or thoughtful in his treatments.
WIth vulnerability, and self-awareness, he points out why depression for physician can be so serious. Their depression can affect how well they do their vitally important jobs. That means that untreated depression can put other people's health and well-being at risk as well.
Furthermore, doctors may have a hard time finding help or admitting they have a problem. Even though the process of caring for others' health and facing the stress of a clinical setting can make a lot of people feel overwhelmed or burned out, there is often a prevailing expectation that physicians can stay above it all and not be personally affected.
This can make a doctor reluctant to admit to any kind of weakness. This stress is coupled with a much easier access to potentially addictive prescription medication than is available to most people, and so it's easy to see how a doctor with anxiety or depression would try to "self-medicate" his or her pain away to try to keep going.
Substance abuse is at best only a temporary fix to a mood disorder, and when the high wears off, the user is often left feeling even worse. This can set off a dangerous cycle where depression and substance abuse can co-relate and intensify each other.
You do not have to suffer in silence. Physicians may have a lot of well-deserved respect for their lifesaving work, but you are also a human being with your own vulnerabilities and struggles. Don't be afraid to realize when you need to look for help from a therapist, addiction support group, or counselor.
Obviously, you would never be cruel, judgemental, or victim-blaming to a patient who had a life-threatening disease; and addiction and depression are diseases just like heart disease and cancer. Needing help doesn't make you weak, or a "bad doctor." So do whatever you can to extend the same compassion to yourself that you would to your patients.
Take care of yourself, and realize sometimes you have to take a break from the 24/7 pressure to help others. That means doing the best you can to make time for sleep, nutritious eating, and time with family and friends. Self-care, and staying aware of your own mental health, is a vitally important part of being able to do your job well.
Photo Credit: BigStockPhoto