Long Hours May Cause Depression in Young Doctors

depression in doctors

As the COVID emergency enters its third year, doctors and medical professionals have learned they need a good work-life balance if they’re going to survive. But one group is still working long hours on the front lines: first-year residents. New doctors in training are still expected to put in grueling shifts of up to 80 hours a week. This leads to burnout, exhaustion, and depression.

Are Doctors Depressed More Than Others?

study carried out between 2009 and 2020 suggests that it is the long hours, more than any other cause, that leads to depression and burnout in new doctors. Led by researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School, the study followed more than 17,000 residents during their first year in residency.

The residents were screened at the start of the study using a standard depression checklist. The average score was between 2 and 3, indicating minimal depression. At the end of the study, scores had risen by an average of 2 points, or moderate depression. However, among residents averaging 90 or more hours per week, scores had risen an average of 5 points, and over one-third of the residents met the criteria for clinical depression.

It’s Not Just Stress

According to Dr. Laurel Mayer, who was not part of this study, exhaustion is a key factor in depression. Doctors are typically people who handle stress well, but long hours and a heavy workload may be more than the individual can bear.

Although residents are “only” supposed to work 80 hours per week, the study found this is unevenly enforced. The hours can be averaged over a four-week period, meaning a resident could work 90 or even 100 hours in one week as long as the monthly average is 80.

In addition, doctors have the same stigma about seeking mental health care as the general public. They may feel compelled to “tough it out” if they feel overwhelmed or simply too tired to seek help.

Bringing Help to the Professionals

Getting help to young doctors with crowded schedules is essential for their mental health and the benefit of their patients. Older physicians and staff can help by recognizing signs of fatigue and depression in their colleagues and recommending mental health care.

The Professionals in Training program available at Providence Treatment is designed for working professionals in high-stress, long-hour occupations where fatigue and depression are likely to occur. Such mental health treatment plans recognize that simply cutting hours is not an option. They instead help professionals find alternatives for coping with stressors.

Individual and group therapy, meditation, yoga, mindfulness therapy, and other forms of stress management are options for medical residents and other professionals for whom cutting hours or medication is not an alternative at the moment.

If you are a resident in training or have a loved one who is experiencing stress and depression as they learn the craft of medicine, contact Providence Treatment to learn more about our Professionals in Training program. Call (866) 247-3307 now, or fill out our online intake form, and a representative will call you right away.

Don’t let long hours and stress lead to burnout and depression. Contact Providence Treatment today.

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