Issue 5 / 18 February 2013

THIS month beyondblue, the national depression and anxiety initiative, plans to survey half of all doctors and medical students in Australia about their mental health.

The survey is being undertaken as part of the beyondblue Doctors’ Mental Health Program (bbDMHP), established in 2009. It is the world’s first national survey of doctors’ mental health, and we believe it will offer an unprecedented insight into the mental wellbeing of Australia’s doctors and medical students.

The survey findings will be disseminated widely by beyondblue to provide a stronger evidence base for the development and delivery of mental health programs and services for the medical profession. Therefore, the more doctors and medical students who participate in the survey, the more accurate the outcomes will be.

A systematic literature review commissioned by beyondblue in 2009 — “The mental health of doctors: a systematic literature review” found there is limited Australian research examining the mental health of medical students and doctors, with no studies focusing on rural doctors.

The bbDMHP survey questionnaire and methodology were developed with input from a project advisory group, comprising leading experts in doctors’ mental health, an international expert, a doctor with personal experience of mental illness and representatives from medical schools, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) management committee, the Medical Board of Australia, the AMA, the Australian Medical Students’ Association and the Australasian Junior Medical Officers’ Forum.

About half of Australia’s doctors and medical students, including those in regional and rural areas, will be invited to participate in the survey via a letter to be mailed this week. The survey can be completed on the hard copy questionnaire or online through a secure URL.

Feedback to beyondblue from the medical profession has reinforced the need for the survey to be completely anonymous and voluntary.

Monash University has provided ethics approval for the survey. AHPRA has agreed to send out the survey questionnaire on behalf of beyondblue, ensuring the survey sample is representative of all doctors and medical students in Australia.

Data collected by beyondblue will not be passed on to AHPRA or the Medical Board or, in the case of medical students, the university at which they are enrolled. In any case, data collected will be non-identifying.

Roy Morgan Research has been engaged by beyondblue to collect and analyse the survey data.

Doctors and medical students invited to participate in the survey will have until 28 March to complete the questionnaire. We plan to communicate the key findings from the survey to the medical profession in mid 2013.

Professor David Clarke is the chief investigator and chair of the project advisory group for the beyondblue Doctors’ Mental Health Program.

Posted 18 February 2013

One thought on “David Clarke: Checking our wellbeing

  1. elisabeth says:

    It must take a mental toll on doctors when they see their patients undergo hours of various psychosocial therapies with little lasting benefit. For these patients, they then baulk at considering the alternatives in which they have had no formal education or training, largely owing to the significant stigma and unfounded fear of the medication treatments, and the ongoing educational void in our universities despite insurmountable quality evidence.
    Other than in developmental paediatrics, in all other areas of health and medicine we remain scandalously poorly educated in neurodevelopmental and genetics-based mental or behavioural disorders. These usually overt problems are either consciously or subconsciously ignored or dismissed or branded as something else, despite the evidence that a whopping 10% of the population suffer such genetics-based disorders, often by an entire families, and the alarming costs to our society as a whole.
    In recent times, the effective marketing of alternative “health” practices and the “you can change anything”, environment-focused, self-help phenomena have taken their toll on the public’s – and, consequently, the Govt’s – perceptions of the effectiveness of health professionals and certain medication treatments.
    Despite the mapping of the human genome and the overwhelming evidence highlighting our genes as the most significant contributors to all manner of human disease and environment playing a surprisingly small part role, the debate about treatment is circuitous. The state of Australia’s mental health has been shown as stagnating or worse while the “rhinoceros in the room” remains ignored. The poor outcomes of stances and subsequent govt-funded programs, such as beyondblue and many other supposedly learned mental health academics, refuse to even treat these common disorders which, left untreated, morph into parisito-morbidities like anxiety and depression. Then these patients are diagnosed but miss the highly treatable, underlying cause.
    One psychiatrist, who is has begun implementing education programs in Sydney universities, highlights how fulfilling and beneficial it is to both diagnose and treat patients for whom the outcome is profoundly beneficial and life-changing.
    Proper current and ongoing educational programs for both students and doctors need to be implemented and accepted as part of practising medicine or any health-oriented profession. This strategy will prove beneficial for both the doctors and the patients they treat.

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