About 15% to 30% of medical students and residents suffer from depression

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Doctors are not healing angels and should not be blamed for patient deaths unduly

New Delhi, 11 October 2018: A study conducted by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) last year found that in Kerala doctors die approximately 10 to 12 years before the average person – in India, overall, this number stands at seven years before the average person. In early 2018, about six doctors checked into the psychiatric ward at AIIMS at the same time, even as the IMA has declared physician suicides ‘a public health crisis’.

Most doctors follow a 12-hour shift including teaching, mentoring, attending to patients, and doing research work. Some attend to about 400 patients a day in healthcare facilities, some of which lack even the basic amenities and infrastructure. All this and the guilt of not being able to give enough time to patients can result in burnout, alienation, diseases, and depression over time, all of which can lead to suicides.

Speaking about this, Padma Shri Awardee, Dr KK Aggarwal, President, HCFI, said, “Medical students often suffer from depression. Their training is extremely taxing and can take a toll on their mental and physical health. A student may have been a topper in school, but things change when they enter medical college. Not being able to score as well can also lead to depression after a point. It is estimated that about 15% to 30% of the medical students and residents suffer from depression. In a study, it was found that many students either contemplated suicide or attempted it! Many students resort to non-prescription drug use such as eating painkillers or antidepressants. For senior doctors, there is work stress, reputation at stake, and the inability to recognize the symptoms of depression or fatigue.”

Increasing physical assault on doctors by patients and their families is also on the rise. People hold doctors responsible for any eventuality without realizing that they are not healing angels. Lack of trust between patients and doctors is another major reason for suicides.

Adding further, Dr Aggarwal, who is also the Group Editor-in-Chief of IJCP, said, “The cases of burnout are likely higher in female doctors due to the demands at both work and home. The number of specialists is limited, and hence they are subjected to more working hours and the nature of the jobs is demanding. With such a punishing workload, they may also end up taking the blame if something goes wrong or even become frustrated with the changing work culture. Addressing the doctor-patient ratio in India is, therefore, an urgent need of the hour.”

Here are some tips for doctors to avoid a possible burnout.

  • Practice smart work scheduling
  • Start a hobby which will help you distract yourself from the regular workload
  • Make time for relaxing techniques such as yoga and meditation, as these will prove to be stressbusters.
  • Make time for family and friends
  • Delegate tasks and try to manage your time effectively.