Mental health crisis in doctors goes unnoticed

05 Oct 2021
High burnout, low empathy levels among SG medical residents

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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