Doctors enter the field of medicine as a way to help people, but we constantly hear the phrase, “Doctors make the worst patients,” and rightfully so, depression rates are actually higher among practicing doctors than in the general public.
The gruelling road to becoming a doctor leaves little room for personal reflection and good self-care. Doctors work through years of sleepless nights, endless studying, and hours upon hours in hospital settings until they finally receive that white coat. Free time for family and friends, hobbies and relaxation is virtually nonexistent.
How can this lifestyle not affect a person’s mental health?
What is Depression?
Although, at certain times, everyone experiences feelings of sadness, a diagnosis of depression means much more. This mental illness is characterized by persistent symptoms that interfere with daily life, and change the person’s attitude, level of functioning, and overall approach to life.
The National Institute of Mental Health cites the signs and symptoms of depression as:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating, or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.
Basically, major depressive disorder affects the sufferer’s ability to work, eat, sleep, study, and to enjoy activities that once brought that same individual a sense of pleasure, entertainment, or relaxation.
Doctors with Depression
Even though physicians are working toward overall health with their patients, they often overlook their own complete health. A doctor who does identify a few symptoms of depression in him or herself may not seek help either because of a personal belief that he or she should be able to handle anything without help, or because of a perceived stigma that doctors are supposed to be able to handle all disorders being treated in patients.
Just like a depressed mother is unable to best care for her child or children, doctors who suffer from depression, and leave it untreated, are not able to best help each patient.
When a physician sees symptoms of any disorder in a patient, more information is gathered to make a diagnosis that can be appropriately treated. Whether a referral needs to be made to another area of medicine, a medication is prescribed, or a combination of approaches is recommended for a client, a physician would never send patients home to handle things on their own.
Doctors Becoming Patients
As awareness increases, and more doctors come forward to disclose personal struggles with depression, the stigma can be reduced and ideally, more physicians will seek the care they need.
We all experience blind spots at times, so if you see the symptoms of depression in a person working toward or currently practicing medicine, you can help by speaking to that person privately, with a concerned and loving stance. Help can be sought without interruption to patient assistance to prevent further life consequences of untreated depression.
Jared Friedman is a quality improvement manager who specializes in treating dual diagnosis at Sovereign Health Group.
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- Depression isn’t all in the mind – but can it really be pinned down? (telegraph.co.uk)
- Your experiences of antidepressants (theguardian.com)
- Hundreds of convicted doctors still practising (telegraph.co.uk)
- Inflammatory dietary pattern linked to depression among women (hsph.harvard.edu)