This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW). 

The Mental Health Foundation marks MHAW as a time to take notice of our mental wellbeing and recognise that it’s a taonga/treasure that needs to be nurtured. So now is a good time to think about your mental health as a GP.

In 2016, the current College President Dr Samantha Murton wrote a Self-care guide to support members.

GPs spend most of their day telling patients what they need to do to take care of their health, but they themselves can be better when it comes to taking care of their own health.

Here are five helpful reminders from the Self-care guide to help you take better care of your health which, in turn, will enable you to take care of your patients.

1. Recognise when you are not self-caring 

Self-care requires that you recognise when you are not self-caring. This takes reflection and time. When did you last take time to reflect on how you are? Doctors are known for going to work even when they are not well. When this happens, you will not be operating at full capacity both physically and mentally. Any underperforming health professional may put patient care at risk.  Poor patient care causes harm and can engender complaints. So take time out. Your wellbeing is as important, if not more, as your patients’.

2. Acknowledge that anxiety or stress does not turn up overnight

You explain to depressed, anxious or stressed patients that their condition did not turn up overnight.  It would be helpful to acknowledge this yourself. Too often, health professionals ignore signs of depression until it is overwhelming. According to Dr Joanna MacDonald, former Chair of the Medical Council Health Committee, “The secret to survival boils down to having the humility to recognise that we are all vulnerable and fallible; and the wisdom to recognise when we need help and accept it.”
There are many available tools for self-assessment like the British Medical Association’s burnout questionnaire and the NZ Medical Association’s warning signs of burnout, anxiety, depression and substance abuse. There is free counselling available for doctors who are Medical Protection Society (MPS) or Medical Assurance Society (MAS) members. This provides confidential counselling and psychological support. Auckland University has free online tools and resources aimed at managing stress and depression and developing resilience.

3. Care for colleagues

When was the last time you saw a colleague who was not performing at his/her best? Did you provide support? This situation may be difficult as doctors are not very good at treating other doctors. Doctors are also known for not taking their colleague’s advice. So early recognition of health-related deterioration in the performance of colleagues or yourselves is important. Consider taking practitioner health programmes that provide specific training for those providing care to fellow doctors.

4. Identify and prepare for potential challenges 

When athletes are gearing up for a big race, they will train harder and focus on maintaining their wellbeing. Similarly, recognising challenges ahead allows you to prepare. This will help you to focus more and get through the challenge without jeopardising your own health or the care of our patients. 

Life-changing events that may pose a challenge and that could have an impact on your wellbeing include buying a house, a death of a loved one, having children, changing jobs, changing cities, aging parents or children leaving home. When these happen at the same time, it can increase the burden on an already burdensome occupation.

Other potential stressors are politics in the workplace, governmental demands, compliance issues, natural disasters, or in the case of practice owners, the added responsibility to manage and improve services.

5. Get support in a complaint process

It is said that all doctors get a complaint in their lifetime. Whether this is true or not, it is still  distressing to go through a complaint no matter how well managed it is. This is why having support through a complaint process is important. 

For more information, read the self-care guide.

For more information, read the self-care guide or the New Zealand Medical Association's burnout guide.