Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Older Physicians Experience Less Work-Related Stress, Psychological Distress Than Younger Colleagues

Physicians experience higher rates of psychological distress and suicidal ideation than the general population, but the experience of age may act as a buffer for older physicians, a study in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry suggests. The study also found that work-life conflict declined as physicians grew older.

Chanaka Wijeratne, M.D., of the University of Notre Dame, Australia, and colleagues analyzed data from 10,038 physicians who responded to the National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students, which was conducted in Australia. They divided responses into three groups according to physician age: younger (40 years old and younger), middle aged (41 to 60 years old), and older (61 years old or older). Physicians were asked whether they had experienced suicidal ideation and/or had been given a diagnosis of anxiety or depression over the preceding 12 months. They were also asked if they were distressed over work stressors such as conflict between study/career and family/personal responsibilities, finances and debt, long work hours, sleep deprivation, and difficult relations with senior colleagues, among others. They were asked to rate their distress over these stressors as “not at all stressed,” “not that stressed,” or “very stressed.” Physicians also answered questions about feelings of exhaustion, cynicism toward their work, whether they felt they were effective at work, and their drinking habits.

Compared with middle-aged and younger physicians, older physicians reported fewer workplace stressors that made them feel “very stressed,” and they were less likely to report distress over work-life conflict. As a group, older physicians felt less distress over work-related stressors in general, less exhaustion, less cynicism toward their work, and greater personal efficacy at work compared with their younger and middle-aged peers, and they were less likely to report suicidal ideation or a diagnosis of anxiety or depression over the preceding 12 months. However, their likelihood of reporting distress increased if they had a history of mental illness. There were no significant differences in high-risk drinking between groups, although younger physicians were more likely to engage in moderate-risk drinking compared with their middle-aged and older colleagues.

“Whilst the extant literature has suggested that physicians experience poor mental health, it can be seen that it needs to be considered more broadly in the context of age and career stage as there is an improvement in physicians’ reporting of psychological distress, suicidal ideation, burnout, and experience of workplace stress as they age,” the researchers wrote.

For related information, see the American Journal of Psychiatry article “Well-Being, Burnout, and Depression Among North American Psychiatrists: The State of Our Profession.”

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