Nica Richards
Deputy online news editor
2 minute read
9 Jun 2020
6:30 am

Depression and suicide are rife among stressed doctors

Nica Richards

A tough cycle of impossible hours and lack of sleep means mistakes will be made, but uncertainty amid the Covid-19 pandemic could increase suicide rates even more.

Picture: YouTube

Depression, anxiety, stress and fear were some feelings people in lockdown experienced – but the medical community experienced it tenfold, a recent study in China found.

Training physicians’ daily moods decreased significantly during the Covid-19 pandemic, along with an increase in depression and anxiety, the study revealed.

Suicide rates among doctors are reported to be 2.5 times more likely than the rest of the population.

Physician Pamela Wible investigated the high suicide rate among doctors and their families in 2017. Doctors’ increased suicides had been reported since 1858, but the root cause has still not been addressed, she claimed, because doctors are “masters of disguise”, but routinely suffer from burnout and “inhumane” work conditions, often involving sleep deprivation.

A tough cycle of impossible hours and lack of sleep means mistakes will be made, but uncertainty amid the Covid-19 pandemic could increase suicide rates even more.

With Africa’s already overburdened healthcare systems, Zambia-based doctor Naeem Dalal warned a lack of resources and finances could escalate anxiety surrounding Covid-19 among doctors.

Dalal said over 22% of the world’s burden of disease affects Africa, but the continent only has access to 3% of healthcare workers and less than 1% of global financial resources.

As SA grapples with an increase in the number of Covid-19 infections, the challenges faced by healthcare workers are more significant than ever, said Cipla SA chief executive Paul Miller.

Even though there was a lack of research on mental health in the country, SA studies compared to more developed healthcare systems still indicated high levels of burnout, he said.

But despite burnout, anxiety and depression being common in the medical community, there was still stigma surrounding mental health, even by doctors.

Cipla partnered with the SA Depression and Anxiety Group and launched the #Socks4Docs campaign on Friday, when South Africans wore colourful funky socks, to encourage healthcare professionals to talk about mental health.

“The message of the campaign was that doctors are just like everyone else – simply humans,” Miller said.

The campaign was started by Australian doctor Geoff Toogood, who battled depression. It seeks to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and decrease suicide rates among healthcare workers.

nicas@citizen.co.za

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