Mental torment 'rife' in medical field‚ says Johannesburg doctor

04 June 2018 - 14:23 By Naledi Shange
Hospital bed, nurse and doctor.
Hospital bed, nurse and doctor.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

A doctor in Johannesburg has started a conversation about how medical professionals often struggle with mental illness.

"Mental illness is rife among doctors but is a silent killer. We are too scared to admit when we are drowning‚ because come on‚ we are generally the top achieving‚ highest paid‚ smartest individuals in the population‚" Dr Mori Boshomane wrote on Facebook. Her post‚ on June 1‚ marked a day of awareness about mental illness among doctors.

"And sadly‚ admitting that we are depressed‚ anxious‚ bipolar‚ overwhelmed or not coping are a no-no because our very own colleagues will label us as being 'weak'‚" she added.

Boshomane tackled the issue of depressed medics‚ sharing how doctors sometimes used alcohol‚ marijuana and prescription pain killers to deal with their problems.

In her post‚ which has since gone viral‚ she revealed that problems for medics did not only begin when they started practising.

"In my final year of med school‚ my classmate jumped off a 13-storey building the day before a block test. She died‚" Boshomane said.

"In our first year of internship‚ another one of my classmates committed suicide. A year later‚ a guy a year behind me in medschool injected himself with a lethal dose of potassium in his room…‚" she wrote.

"A number of times‚ we've had to talk some of our colleagues and friends out of wanting to end it all."

She described some of the pressures that drove doctors over the edge.

"We work 36-hour shifts. We are forced to move on from declaring babies dead as if nothing happened. We deal with rape‚ murder and other low points of humanity day-by-day.

“All of this aside from the fact that some of us also have families to take care of and academics to deal with‚" she said.

"Please know that although we tend to portray a very well put-together image‚ many of us are dealing with quite a lot behind the scenes‚" Boshomane said.

Another doctor‚ Alastair McAlpine‚ took to Twitter to add his voice to the conversation.

"The truth is‚ being a doctor‚ especially in crazy SA‚ is not easy‚ and docs have a high incidence of mental health issues‚" McAlpine tweeted.

"I found out first-hand how difficult it can be to be open about mental illness‚ when I discussed my own struggles in the wake of Chester Bennington’s suicide.

“In return‚ I got mocked and insulted by a journalist‚ who thought this sort of behaviour was ‘funny’‚" he said.

Bennington was the frontman for rock band Linkin Park. He hung himself after what his wife said was a lengthy battle with depression.

"So if you see anyone out there (especially a healthcare worker) struggling‚ remember that we’re human‚ too‚ and often have to put up with the worst of humanity‚" McAlpine said.

Another doctor tweeted how a person with depression could be assisted. "You don’t have to like that we are unwell. Trust me‚ we certainly don’t‚" she said.

"But make sure we know that you can sit with our brokenness. That we don’t have to make you feel better. And if you don’t understand‚ for gods’ sakes‚ research it‚" she added.

TimesLIVE has reached out to the national department of health about the extent of mental health issues affecting staff in the medical field. This story will be updated once they respond.