Mental health crisis in doctors goes unnoticed

05 Oct 2021

Undiagnosed depression, depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation are all common among Hong Kong doctors, a recent study has found.

Through emails or paper questionnaires, the researchers surveyed 393 medical school graduates (mean age 32.8±5.4 years, 45.0 percent women) from the University of Hong Kong to assess their depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, thoughts of self-harm, career satisfaction, and lifestyle behaviours. The survey included validated instruments such as the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) and the alcohol use disorders identification test version C (AUDIT-C).

A PHQ-9 score >9, indicative of depression, was recorded in 16.0 percent of respondents, with a slightly higher prevalence in women (16.4 percent vs 15.8 percent). Moreover, 15.3 percent of participants had had suicidal ideation and thoughts of self-harm over the past 2 weeks.

In terms of depression severity, participants had a mean PHQ-9 score of 5.26±5.65. Majority (58.78 percent; n=231) had scores ranging from 0–4, suggesting minimal symptom burden. However, 25.19 percent (n=99) and 7.12 percent (n=28) scored 5–9 and 10–14 points, pointing to substantial rates of mild and moderate depressive symptoms, respectively.

Notably, 6.11 percent (n=24) and 2.8 percent (n=11) of the responding physicians had moderately severe and severe depressive symptoms, respectively.

Sleep seemed to be a crucial factor such that sleeping fewer hours per night correlated significantly with higher PHQ-9 scores (coefficient, –1.441, 95 percent confidence interval [CI], –2.012 to –0.870), a higher likelihood of scoring >9 points on the PHQ-9 (odds ratio [OR], 0.499, 95 percent CI, 0.363–0.688), and a higher risk of suicidal ideation and thoughts of self-harm (OR, 0.694, 95 percent CI, 0.509–0.948; p=0.022).

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