How your mental health can affect your practice

Mental Health Awareness week starts every year on the second Monday in May - in 2018 from 14 - 20 May. The Mental Health Foundation has hosted this awareness week since 2000 and its aims, together with various helpful resources relating to mental health matters, can be found at https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/.

In this article we highlight how your own mental health can affect your clinical practice. We also explain some of the resources available to Incision members to help manage these issues.

Sadly, many of the Incision members who call our dedicated 24/7 medico-legal helpline are facing enormous pressures. This is not surprising given the features of modern practice. It is important not to underestimate the intellectual, physical and emotional stresses that clinicians face every day. ‘Work’ stressors can and do coincide with personal life problems, and it is humbling to see how many doctors soldier on even when dealing with severe events such as bereavement.

If that wasn’t enough, clinicians are increasingly likely to face complaints and claims from patients. Patients and the Courts seem to hold clinicians to ever-higher standards, and litigation funding options such as ‘no win no fee’ encourages more patients to try to seek redress. Even though complaints and claims are almost inevitable, receiving one can still be difficult and stressful. Even when a claim lacks any merit, the clinician has to somehow find the time to deal with it. Also, it is never pleasant to face allegations about clinical work done with the patient’s best interests at heart.

Many clinicians are so accustomed to dealing with these various pressures that mental health problems can creep up unnoticed. Some clinicians don’t realize that they are showing symptoms of illnesses such as depression until their difficulties have become quite serious. Others may ‘self-medicate’ with excessive alcohol or drug use to the detriment of their physical health. In other cases, the clinician may be just about coping until a complaint or claim comes along and becomes ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’. Either way, a clinician whose mental health is poor is more likely to make errors of judgment in practice, in turn causing more complaints. It is a cruel irony that the more stress a clinician is experiencing, the greater the risk of adverse incidents that pile on yet more stress.

Therefore this Mental Health Awareness week, please remember that looking after yourself and your mental health is important in itself, and also helps you fulfill your vocation of providing excellent care to patients.

Incision members have access to a dedicated 24/7 medico-legal helpline to help with a wide range of matters relating to their practice. The service is expressly intended to help you cope with the significant demands of modern clinical practice. In addition to practical guidance through the medico-legal helpline, Incision members also have access to a confidential telephone counselling service.

This article is an extract of a more detailed and extensive guidance note available only to Incision members.