More than a quarter of NHS doctors suffer from mental health conditions, a survey indicates, as leading medics say many refuse to seek help for fear it will ruin their career.
The British Medical Association (BMA) today warns of a mental health “crisis” among the workforce, with 27 per cent having received a psychiatric diagnosis.
The union says long hours and heavy workloads fuelled by rota gaps and increasing patient demand are pushing thousands of doctors towards “burnout”.
However, BMA leaders also say that an old-fashioned working culture means doctors fear admitting vulnerability.
The survey of 4,300 practitioners found that four in 10 is currently suffering from some sort of psychological or emotional conditions.
Meanwhile half of GPs said they or someone in their practice had sought help for a condition that was affecting the way they worked.
One in three admitted to resorting to alcohol, drugs or self-prescribing as a way of getting through their shifts.
Professor Dinesh Bhugra, BMA President, said: “This report shines an important light on the alarming mental health crisis currently burdening the medical workforce as the link between the current pressures on doctors and poor mental health can no longer be ignored.”
He added: “As the people who are entrusted with caring for the health of others, doctors often feel particularly vulnerable or unable to come forward and seek help for fear of judgement and or any perceived ramifications a declaration of poor mental health may have on their prospective career.”
The survey was released alongside a study by Swansea University, based on interviews with doctors.
One doctor suffering from poor mental health told researchers she was so afraid about the effects on her career that she paid for a private psychiatrist.
“I was worried about fitness to practice issues,” she said.
“I didn’t want long-term consequences. I didn’t really want anybody to know what was going on.”
The BMA is calling for a shift in current workplace culture towards that of a supportive working environment, with better access to support services and an end to the feeling of stigma among doctors in need of help.
The majority of doctors consulted - 80 per cent - were at high or very high risk of burnout with junior doctors most at risk, the survey found.
“A system that fails to support and protect the health of its own workforce will only flounder and this is as clear a call to action if ever there was one,” said Professor Bhugra.