Coronavirus putting medical professionals’ mental health further at risk

By Tom Ravlic

Monday September 13, 2021

Doctors are at increased risk of suicide, and female doctors particularly.
Doctors are at increased risk of suicide, and female doctors particularly. (PR Image Factory/Adobe)

Doctors are at increased risk of suicide and female doctors appear to be at particular risk, according to a recent study by the University of New South Wales and the Black Dog Institute.

The study, which was published in The Lancet also said that one-third to one-quarter of doctors in their early years of training reported mental health issues.

Researchers found there is emerging evidence the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the mental health problems that were already increasing within the cohort of medical professionals.

“There is a need – now more urgent given COVID – to intervene to protect and improve the mental health of doctors, with interventions needing to target not only individuals but, more importantly, their organisations and the wider systems within which they work,” said Professor Samuel Harvey, who is the lead author of the study and the head of the Workplace Mental Health Program at the Black Dog Institute and the UNSW.

“The acute nature of the COVID-19 pandemic in many parts of Australia at the moment highlights the importance of this issue. The mental health of doctors, along with other healthcare staff, is something we are all depending on.

“This review brings together the results of research on the topic of doctors’ mental health for the first time since the pandemic began. The review proposes a novel framework for health systems and employers to use when considering how to tackle the problem,” said Harvey.

The research team found that concerns about suicide among members of the medical community have increased following what they describe as “several high profile suicide clusters” and it has compelled doctors and other medical professionals to consider their own vulnerability.

“What has been an open secret among doctors, is now being investigated and the importance is increasingly recognised. Doctors are a key element of our frontline healthcare system, even more so in the context of a pandemic, and we need them to be as supported and resilient as possible,” Professor Kimberlie Dean, a co-author of the study, said.

News of the study on the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of doctors also follows widespread concerns about the vaccination of hospital workers, aged care workers, and people working in the disability support sector.

The Australian Institute for Health and Safety has joined the push for mandatory vaccinations for all healthcare services staff.

David Clarke, the Institute’s chief executive officer, said that all jurisdictions should be mandating vaccinations for those working in the health sector.

“In the coming months as restrictions are reduced, we will see an increased transmission of COVID-19 in our communities, and the risks of major closures of health services will continue to rise,” Clarke said.

“COVID-19 and its variants will be with us for the longer term, so we must focus on where the greatest potential threat to public health lies. That threat is currently in our healthcare systems, where the impacts of even a single healthcare worker COVID-19 infection is multiplied many times, with flow-on effects that are dangerous to public health.”

Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14 


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