Heavy workload leaves 40% of GPs facing mental health problems including PTSD

Two in five GPs have experienced mental health problems including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - with heavy workload a key factor, a survey has revealed.

Heavy workload (Photo: iStock)
Heavy workload (Photo: iStock)

A total of 40% of GPs say they have experienced a mental health problem such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or PTSD, according to a survey of more than 1,000 GPs in England and Wales by mental health charity Mind.

GP leaders called the findings 'deeply concerning' and called for steps to tackle soaring pressure on general practice and increased support for doctors facing mental health problems.

The survey found many GPs felt unable to ask for help with mental health problems at work, with just 48% saying they would seek support from colleagues and 33% saying they would speak to their practice manager about such issues.

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Where can GPs access help if they are struggling to cope?

Just 1% said they would seek support from professional bodies such as the GMC, while the vast majority (86%) said they were more likely to turn to family and friends.

Dr Zoe Neill, a portfolio GP from Harrogate, North Yorkshire, has been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD during her time as a doctor. She said: ‘Five years ago as a full-time GP I was working five or six days a week, including evenings and some weekends.

'I loved working at a GP surgery but it was immensely challenging. Being expected to work those hours, in addition to having two children, was just not sustainable. I was regularly seeing patients with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts and recognised that my own mental health was suffering too.’

Burnout

GPonline revealed earlier this year that three GPs a day were seeking help for burnout through the GP Health Service.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard described findings from the Mind survey as 'deeply concerning, but not a total surprise'.

'It’s a terrible irony that GPs, the gatekeepers of the NHS who spend their lives caring for others, are often suffering in silence about their mental health and don’t feel as though they’re able to reach out and ask for help,' she said.

'More needs to be done to solve the root cause of the untenable workload and pressures that GPs are dealing with, and that means more resources, and more doctors and practice team members working in UK general practice.'

Workload

The RCGP says workload in general practice has increased by at least 16% in both volume and complexity over the last seven years, while the profession's share of the NHS budget has fallen and record numbers of GPs plan to quit.

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, BMA GPC executive team workforce lead, said: ‘Given the intense pressure GPs are under to meet rising patient demand with inadequate resources it is no surprise that their own mental health is suffering as a result.

‘This report is extremely concerning and highlights the need for better support for GPs and their teams. The BMA is calling for a properly-funded universal occupational health service, so that GPs and the wider practice staff are able to access the support they need, and in turn are better equipped to care for their patients.

‘As we know, with the majority of illnesses, prevention is better than cure, and therefore more must be done to tackle the root cause of anxiety and depression among GPs, by addressing the unmanageable and often unsafe workloads they face day-in, day-out.’

Mind is calling on CCGs and GP practices to ensure the whole primary care workforce - including practice managers, reception staff and practice nurses - receives appropriate support when needed.

Dr Neill added: ‘Mental health problems are extremely common in general practitioners but the shame associated with disclosing is immense. Clinicians are not supposed to be unwell themselves. It’s really important for everyone that the government urgently address the root causes of stress in the NHS, often lack of control of workloads is key.’

GPonline has approached NHS England for comment.

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