Chris Lancelot: A testament to chronic exhaustion

Isn't it fascinating how we can analyse the behaviour of a group of people as though they were a single individual? A group whose members are all talking agitatedly may be considered anxious; one where everyone is reluctant to speak may be depressed.

Sometimes a sub-group becomes so fed up with the others that it splits off and has a separate meeting which the first group can overhear: the equivalent of schizophrenia.

Equally, the behaviour of a group says a lot about the individuals within it.

Some years ago I went behind the scenes with the engineers at a nationally recognised transport museum. It was a revelation, but not in the way I had expected.

Previously I had been accustomed to hospital messes with their pessimism, gallows humour and constant criticism of 'the system'. The engineers' mess couldn't have been more different. The mood was of total optimism, with everyone talking enthusiastically about the antique engines they were planning to bring back to life. There was a positive, 'go get 'em' attitude.

And it got me thinking - why the difference? Doesn't it tell us something about our profession? What do we learn from the cynicism and anger that seem to permeate so many of our colleagues' comments? A sizeable part of our profession seems to hate - yes, really hate - having to deal with patients' problems. Why should this be the case in what is ostensibly a vocational and caring profession?

If we gathered all the doctors in the UK into one group, what would its mood be? Happy, confident and fulfilled? Anxious, angry or depressed? Resentful or fearful?

Tired, angry and overwhelmed, I suspect - leading to the anxiety, depression, cynicism and despair that so often follows, ending in complete burnout. And that diagnosis fits in well with the statistics on doctors' alcoholism, depression and suicide.

Undoubtedly, many of us love our job and wouldn't swap it for anything. But the attitude of our profession as a whole makes me think that we are nearer the edge than we like to think. The anger and cynicism that so frequently surface are testimony to this state of chronic exhaustion. Politicians, managers and negotiators, take note.

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