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Trainee doctors less likely to disclose mental ill health, reveals survey

14 April 2016

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Trainees and younger doctors are less likely to disclose mental ill health than GPs or consultants, a survey of doctors has revealed.

The research also found that a lack of understanding of the available support was a key obstacle to disclosure.

Doctors were asked to complete an anonymous online questionnaire for the research published by Occupational Health.

Just under 1% or 1,946 of the UK’s doctors responded. Three fifths of replies came from women.

They were asked if they had experienced mental ill health or not.

The doctors were asked to describe their experiences or what they thought they would do if they had mental health problems in the future.

Eighty-two per cent of doctors in England said they had experienced mental ill health, with 60% in Wales, 55% in Northern Ireland and 45% in Scotland.

A fifth of these were GPs, with 34% of doctors in training and 32% of consultants revealing they had experienced mental ill health.

Overall 54% said they would or have disclosed their mental health problem.

However, in reality just 41% did actually disclose their condition, the survey revealed.

Out of the 215 GPs who responded to the question 61% agreed they would or had disclosed their health problem.

Trainees were the least likely to disclose, the research found.

The team led by Professor Debbie Cohen from Cardiff University’s centre for medical education said the results suggested that “doctors were less likely to disclose substance misuses and gambling addictions than depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia”.

The most common reason given for unwillingness to disclose was a desire to avoid being labelled.

Doctors also said they were able to deal with it alone, had mild symptoms or did not see the relevance.

Those who had disclosed were most likely to tell occupational health, colleagues and line managers.

The majority of doctors who had not had mental ill health said they thought they were most likely to talk to someone outside work first and were most likely to talk to a spouse or partner.

Cohen said: “This study has highlighted that some doctors would never disclose mental ill health in their workplace and many do not understand how they may get that support.”

She said information about support services and clarifying their boundaries of confidentiality could help in planning future help.

Click here to view the research

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