What we know
The annual incidence of mental health disorder in the UK population as a whole is that 1 in 4 people in any 1 year will suffer a mental health problem and the lifetime incidence is closer to 1 in 2. Healthcare professional groups are at even higher risk than the general population. For example, doctors are at relatively higher risk of suicide than non medics and vets have quadruple the suicide risk of the general population. A recent survey showed GPs to be 3 times more likely to be depressed than the general population - but there are well-identified barriers to healthcare professionals seeking support and treatment when they are unwell with a mental health problem.
A major factor is the potential stigma and worry about subsequent detrimental career effects. Stigma was noted to be a factor in the events leading to the tragic deaths of psychiatrist Daksha Emson and her baby daughter Freya
. Reluctance to seek help can contribute to sickness absence, and reduced staff retention as well as the presenteeism effect where staff are at work but do not function optimally due to their ill health – highlighted in the 2009 Boorman review
What about the General Medical Council (GMC) / regulatory bodies?
The potential intervention of regulatory bodies such as the GMC can affect practitioners’ willingness to seek help for mental health issues. In reality, GMC guidance is that there is no need for the GMC to be informed about an individual doctor’s mental health diagnosis unless there is a risk to patient safety, for example due to the doctor refusing to follow the advice of their own medical advisors.
Would healthcare professionals currently unwell with a mental health problem be expected to ‘out’ themselves?
Definitely not. The campaign specifically does not wish to risk increasing unwell professionals’ concerns about stigma or breach of confidentiality as this would be likely to lead to reluctance to seek help.
How will the &me campaign help?
Healthcare organisations such as regulatory bodies and colleges are united in urging individual practitioners to seek help if they are unwell with a mental health problem and reassuring them that this is normal. There is a marked absence of leaders within the healthcare professions who have admitted to themselves having been affected by a mental health problem. The effect of this combination is that healthcare professionals, with a mental health problem, can feel as if only they have had a problem and that successful people in their chosen field have not. This is not true but can act as a significant barrier to help seeking behaviour from affected healthcare professionals.
The idea of the campaign is for a group of senior, currently well health care professionals to self identify as having previously been unwell with a mental health problem and that this has not prevented them from succeeding in their chosen field. And doctors seem to have more of a problem in admitting to their own mental health issues than other healthcare professionals. We would suggest that if doctors could improve their approach to their own mental health, this would be likely to lead to better medical care for everyone (patients) with mental health problems.
We hope that this campaign will add to the overall anti stigma message of campaigns such as ‘Time to Change
Partners for the &me campaign
The &me campaign will be launched at the House of Commons on Tuesday 31st January
at an afternoon tea event kindly sponsored by Kevan Jones MP
. Kevan is open about his own history of depression and has done much excellent work in this area. Senior volunteers from within the professions will talk briefly about their experiences and there will be an opportunity for networking.
The campaign will continue for one year and will feature volunteer senior role models via website and social media posts using the hashtag '#AndMe'.
If you would like to volunteer as a senior healthcare professional role model, please email Dr Louise Freeman to discuss this.