Supporting each other through tough times

I and others in BMA Scotland have written several blogs about the importance of doctors’ “wellbeing” in recent years; highlighting the importance of the topic and the resources that doctors need to know are available to them. The sense of urgency in that message heightens with every month that passes and this is not lost on us at BMA Scotland – nor is the increasing inadequacy of the term “doctors wellbeing”. That this now culminates in a blog centred on suicide prevention day highlighting the risk of suicide amongst our profession is something that we, politicians and the public should be deeply concerned about. But if this blog helps raise awareness of this desperately important subject and helps someone to reach out for support or offer support to others then that will be immeasurably important.

World Suicide Prevention Day was on Saturday just past and the GP Committee in England called for their members to take some time out to focus on their own mental health and to identify ways of supporting their own and their team’s wellbeing. This is in response partly to a particularly tragic event in England related to GP workload but also in the knowledge that calls to the BMA’s mental health counselling service have escalated rapidly recently with GPs making many of the calls to this service.

Work related stress and distress caused by working in a system with inadequate resource to meet patients needs is sadly something which is a universal experience for doctors now working in NHS Scotland. We are all faced by this every day in our work in a “frontline” service such as general practice, emergency departments or mental health. But colleagues working in less obvious settings are also faced with not being able to provide the service that they know patients need as they see, for example, ever lengthening waits for essential investigations or waiting times for pathology sample processing.

Of course, we all also have lives outside our work which can bring different challenges and pressures. If you take all of this: the cumulative impact of work related stress which we see no solution to, demoralising comment by politicians and the media and things that may not be going well in our private lives – along with the bleakness of world events, it can lead to a real sense of desperation and hopelessness. Accompany this with a culture that still far too often says it is not OK not to be OK and a fear, sometimes unfounded, of effects on career and a very dangerous situation can quickly emerge for doctors.

The thinking behind world suicide prevention day is that governments need to make suicide prevention a priority. Organisations such as the Samaritans have produced tips on how to take care of ourselves and others better. As doctors we are used to exploring potential suicide risk with patients when necessary. Sadly, now we also have to consider the possibility that our colleagues may be at risk. We need to be alert to that and to be able and equipped to have what may be a difficult discussion around that risk. Taking that time to speak – and really understand what’s going on with colleagues – may be something that’s difficult to initiate, but I think we all know can make such a difference. Beyond that, there are services available as we know and having that conversation, pointing people in the right direction, or even simply listening, can save a life.

So, I know we are all exceptionally busy, but please do take time to consider your mental health and look out for colleagues who may need someone to reach out to them. Crisis mental health services are available and should be used if necessary, where there is risk of suicide, for less acute situations please consider signposting to the very valuable Workforce Specialist Service, which can provide confidential care for doctors with mental health problems.

You can find full details of this service here. If you do need to use it, please complete both the registration forms and wellbeing questionnaires available HERE – it is essential that you complete both sets of forms to register for the service and ensure you are provided with the support you need. If you have any difficulties accessing or completing the forms or would prefer to speak to someone in the service, please call 0300 0303 300. (Monday – Friday 8am-8pm, Sat 8-2pm).

The BMA is also here for doctors and medical students. We have support services available round the clock and for anyone needing help please do not hesitate to get in touch.  

Dr Patricia Moultrie is Deputy Chair of BMA Scotland GP committee

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