Doctor burnout is real but still surrounded by stigma, says healthcare coach Gail Carmody.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone, but healthcare workers are some of the most affected. Before the pandemic, burnout from work had already been a common problem for these workers, with physical and mental stress, toxic work hours and uncertainty taking their toll on many.

Healthcare coach Gail Carmody

In a national survey of Australian healthcare workers, more than half of the respondents said they felt burnt out by the demands of the pandemic. Unfortunately, it is a reality that Australian doctors have higher rates of burnout and more attempts at suicide than the general population.

In a study by Hoffman and Bonney, they identified three key causes based on junior doctors’ responses to their interviews. 

One factor is the expectations they set for themselves. Most junior doctors felt anxious when working independently because they were concerned with their ability and level of competence. Second is the expectations and responses of others as junior doctors had an overall feeling that they were not supported enough by their seniors. Lastly, achieving a good work-life balance was identified as important but difficult to achieve.

Healthcare workers are constantly under pressure, with barely any avenues for rest and recovery. When they experience burnout, it is especially alarming as it impacts on themselves, their patients and the workforce.

Despite this, it was found that most medical professionals isolate themselves to deal with burnout. Although everyone deals with their mental health in different ways, no one should have to go through difficult times alone.

Often healthcare workers are reluctant to seek professional help for their mental health, as they are conscious of what others would think. Most hold a high standard for themselves, so they perceive mental health as a weakness. Moreover, some might also fear their job security if word got out that they needed help. 

All these reasons are valid and understandable, but we must find a way to address these.

It is important that those who provide care for others be in good physical, mental, and even spiritual wellbeing. Now more than ever, with the ongoing pandemic, it is vital that healthcare professionals receive better mental health monitoring and support from employers, colleagues and loved ones.

Although changes in the workflow are important to address burnout, cultivating good mental health practices must start with ourselves.

Here are three ways to cultivate good mental health:

  • Avoid suppressing your thoughts. If you keep in all your negative emotions, it compounds and adds to your feelings of stress and anxiety. Instead of running from your emotions, acknowledge them and do what you can to find a solution. Early support can also help you manage emotions, challenge negative thinking patterns, and reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Avoid spending time with toxic people. Be with more people who inspire you and motivate you to become your best self. It may be difficult to let go of some relationships but do it for yourself and your mental health.
  • Stop comparing yourself with others and believe that you are an amazing human being. When the only person’s opinion that matters is your own, you’ll quickly find yourself caring about judgment from other people much less.

Healthcare professionals need support too, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. 

ED: Gail Carmody is a registered nurse with an MBA, and is director of Coaching for Healthcare.