beyondblue launches world-first doctors mental health survey results

8 October 2013
A world-first survey of thousands of Australian doctors and medical students has revealed they are burnt-out, more likely to experience psychological distress and suicidal thoughts than the general community and are drinking too much alcohol.

beyondblue’s National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students found that medical students and young or female doctors are most at risk and identified that significant levels of stigma exist towards people with mental health problems. Some respondents also reported that they were bullied or experienced racism.

beyondblue Chairman The Hon. Jeff Kennett AC said the findings revealed the extent of doctors’ and medical students’ suffering and should act as an immediate rallying call for action.

“We conducted this survey because, given doctors and medical students are under immense pressure and deal regularly with pain and death, we know that the mental health of many of them is poor,” he said.

“This survey builds on our previous work in this area and we hope it also serves as a wake-up call to the Australian medical community that more must be done to tackle things such as over-work and discriminatory attitudes.”

beyondblue CEO Kate Carnell AO said more must be done not only to help doctors and students, but also patients.

“If doctors do not deal with the mental health issues they are experiencing, it can affect their ability to deliver the best care,” she said.

“We know doctors are distressed and think a lot about suicide, yet this survey indicates they are diagnosed with depression and anxiety at equal or lesser rates than the community.

“Given the high levels of stigma among doctors revealed by this survey, we think doctors are reluctant to admit they have a mental health problem, further highlighting the need for action.

“The survey also shows some doctors experience bullying and racism, which is completely unacceptable. I encourage all medical workplaces to investigate how to create a mentally healthy workplace.

The survey, which was conducted by Roy Morgan and completed by more than 14,000 doctors and medical students, is believed to be the first anywhere in the world to provide a mental health snapshot of such a large proportion of a country’s medical community.

For more information

Read the full media release

Read the executive summary 

Read the final report 

Access beyondblue’s online learning modules 


Some of the major findings

  • One in five medical students and one in 10 doctors had suicidal thoughts in the past year, compared with one in 45 people in the wider community, according to the report. More than four in 10 students and a quarter of doctors are highly likely to have a minor psychiatric disorder, like mild depression or mild anxiety
  • 3.4% of doctors are experiencing very high psychological distress, much greater than the wider community
  • Oncologists are clearly the most psychologically distressed specialists while doctors who do not deal with patients (researchers, administrators, etc) think about suicide most often
  • Male doctors work longer hours (46 per week) and engage in more risky drinking but female doctors are more psychologically distressed and think about suicide more often
  • Young doctors work longer hours (50 per week on average), are far more psychologically distressed, think about suicide more and are more burnt-out than their older colleagues
  • Perceived stigma is rife with almost half of respondents thinking doctors are less likely to appoint doctors with a history of depression or anxiety and four in 10 agreeing that many doctors think less of doctors who have experienced depression or anxiety. 4.5% list bullying and 1.7% list racism as a cause of stress for them.