The number of healthcare professionals suffering from stress, anxiety and burnout rose by more than a third in the last year, according to a new report.
The Practitioner Health Matters Program (PHMP), a confidential mental health support service for people working in the health sector, said these symptoms lead clinicians to abuse substances such as alcohol or drugs, question their careers and consider suicide.
There were 106 new presentations to the program last year, up 36% from 2020, according to the PHMP’s 2021 annual report.
The number of new submissions in a calendar year has now more than doubled in the five-year period since its inception in 2015.
The predominant issues for those presenting to the service include anxiety, depression, substance abuse issues and burnout, with others also citing stress, feeling overwhelmed, sleep problems and distress moral.
According to the PHMP, healthcare professionals rarely present with a single problem, but rather a wide range of conditions and concerns.
Of these new introductions in 2021, the majority were doctors (83%), followed by pharmacists (10%), dentists (4%) and students (3%).
Three out of four new introductions were people between the ages of 26 and 49, while 57% were women.
PHMP continues to support 79 practitioners while they continue to work, 19 practitioners who have returned to work after a period of hiatus, and 8 practitioners who are no longer working but continue to attend.
Of the 358 doctors who have come forward since the program began in 2015, 45% were non-consulting hospital doctors (NCHDs), 29% were general practitioners and trainee doctors, and 23% were consultants.
Dr Íde Delargy, medical director of PHMP, said the program saw the biggest increase in presentations last year, which can be attributed in part to the impact of Covid-19.
“As a society, we have stood by our healthcare professionals, many of whom have worked on the front lines for much of the pandemic,” she said.
“But medicine is a tough career, and whether it’s the stress of the uncertainty of the pandemic or the mental and physical strain of a relentless workload, the lasting legacy of Covid-19 will be felt by our doctors, dentists and pharmacists for a considerable time to come.
Dr Delargy said PHMP staff are seeing “increasing numbers of clinicians” coming to the service with symptoms associated with burnout, anxiety and depression.
“Many of these symptoms lead individuals to abuse substances, whether alcohol, drugs or both. Others talk about having reached a breaking point where they no longer see a future in their careers and have no choice but to leave the profession. In the most serious cases, some have admitted to having had suicidal thoughts,” she added.
However, as a result of the intervention, some 92% of people treated by PHMP continued to work after receiving support.