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Suicide and burnout in our healthcare workers

October 27, 2018

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Suicide and burnout in our healthcare workers

October 27, 2018

Wherever you are on the globe, our health care services are creaking at the seams. The NHS in the UK has been said in the past to be on a 'slow demise to bankruptcy given the inordinate and rising debts it is now facing as a service' (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-31972002).

Pressures on staff are intensifying in ever more busy workloads, and, pressures on budgets, costs, and rising expectations of care quality delivery.  So how are our healthcare staff faring?
 
You may baulk, though you may not be surprised to know that suicide and burnout has been rising amongst healthcare staff not just in the UK but in other parts of the world. Take for example:
 

  1. “30 per cent of Australia's 320,000 nurses had a chronic illness and half of those required time off work in the year before the survey”.

  2. “Suicide levels among GPs were twice as high as in the general population, while conditions such as depression, anxiety, reproductive difficulty and insomnia were widespread.”

  3. “Four in 10 GPs have taken or expect to take time off because of burnout as a result of increasing workloads and intense scrutiny.”

  4. “Up to 28 doctors took their own lives between 2005 and 2013 while being investigated by the General Medical Council, a review of cases has found.”

  5. “At any given time it is likely that approximately one of every three doctors is experiencing some symptoms of burnout.”

  6. “A recent analysis reports that levels of burnout range up to 60 per cent among practising doctors, 53 per cent among medical students and 61 per cent in medical trainees.

  7. "Physician Burnout Is A Public Health Crisis"

  8. "Physicians are more than twice as likely to kill themselves as non-physicians–and female physicians are three times more likely than males"

 
And this is just a snap shot. More so, many symptoms of tiredness, depression, exhaustion, and perhaps burnout go under the radar as they are under reported or not reported – and healthcare workers can suffer in silence – sometimes as these statistics suggest until it is too late. 
 
One of the things that strikes me working in healthcare organisations is that whilst we are there to support our populations’ health and well-being, and, recognise many signs and symptoms when patients present for a consultation or treatment, we may be less likely to spot signs and symptoms in our healthcare colleagues while we are working.
 
There have been a few cases (and rising) recently that I am aware of where by the time it was spotted that a colleague was ‘burnt out’ or certainly unwell, it was quite far on – and they were very sick. If someone had spotted signs and symptoms earlier their time to recover, and return to work could have been a lot shorter – and they would have avoided full scale burn out or depression or illness.  More so in a recent case I saw a healthcare worker I met over a year before – who was then bright eyed and bushy tailed – and I saw this person a year on and I was shocked at how exhausted and depleted they looked.  I immediately stopped and asked how they were and what was going on – and in just those few moments I could tell that this person was already burnout – and actually quite unwell – within a few days this person went off sick and took some weeks to recuperate – and when they finally returned to work they looked and felt far better – and had realised that they didn't actually see for themselves how unwell they had become as it had ‘crept up on them’ like the analogy of a ‘boiling frog’.
 
I realise how busy healthcare environments (and any workplaces) are, and when working in healthcare environments most of the attention is on looking after patients, but there is something deeply important about looking into a colleague's eyes – seeing whether they are that same colleague we are used to seeing regularly or whether they are looking overly tired, depleted, or unwell. And, what if in that moment we realise that perhaps our colleague is not their ‘usual self’, and, we take the time to tenderly ask them how they are, or even suggest they take the time to go to their GP.  As if we don’t, whilst we may not be directly responsible for our colleagues’ health, as an environment set up to care, we are not placing care at the forefront of the working culture. Is it not important to place equal care for ourselves or our colleagues, as we do for patients?
 
At times when we ourselves are distressed, overwhelmed, tired, exhausted, depleted – one of the greatest gifts is that someone takes a moment to ask how we are – and to help us to realise that we are actually sicker than we realise – so that we can then take steps to make changes and recuperate.  Isn’t that the basis of simple caring – and given the rising burnout, suicide and sickness absence statistics in healthcare workers – can we afford not to?
 
References:

  1. http://www.smh.com.au/national/nurses-battling-their-own-medical-crisis-20140223-33agr.html

  2. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/increasing-workloads-are-making-family-doctors-ill-9560844.html

  3. http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/your-practice/battling-burnout/four-in-ten-gps-taking-time-off-for-burnout/20008745.article#.VOeQMULaE70

  4. http://www.gmc-uk.org/news/26011.asp

  5. http://www.samet.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Health-of-doctors-white-paper-final-2013.pdf

  6. http://www.samet.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Health-of-doctors-white-paper-final-2013.pdf

  7. http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2017/03/28/physician-burnout-is-a-public-health-crisis-a-message-to-our-fellow-health-care-ceos/

  8. https://www.fastcompany.com/3056015/the-hidden-epidemic-of-doctor-suicides

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