Stressed-out doctors turn to drink and drugs in rise of mental health issues
The 50 doctors, dentists and pharmacists treated for addiction and mental health problems last year are likely to be the "tip of the iceberg" of health professionals with similar issues, it emerged yesterday.
Dr Ide Delargy, a Dublin GP, estimated that more than 2,000 of the 25,000 professionals in the country have issues, including drink and drug problems.
She was speaking at the launch of the first annual report of the Practitioner Health Matters Programme, an independent charity organisation which provides a free, confidential service.
Health professionals can have higher suicide rates and the ready access to powerful drugs is an added complication.
Doctors accounted for the majority of those who were supported last year and alcohol abuse was the main reason for referral.
Others were abusing over-the-counter drugs or painkiller medicines.
Other professionals suffered from depression, anxiety, bi-polar and delusional disorder.
"They can be very slow to come forward to declare that they may have a mental health or alcohol or drug-related problems due to fears about reputation and confidentiality," Dr Delargy said.
In one case a doctor, with a young family, was binge drinking at weekends, suffering financial problems and stress.
A GP attended seeking help with burnout and was under financial pressure.
Another involved a young doctor who was the subject of a complaint to the Medical Council. She felt dejected and a short period off work was recommended. The doctor was helped and is now back at practice.
Dr Delargy said: "They generally present when in crisis, often having tried to self-manage and self-medicate their problem."
The highest number were in their 30s and 50s. Women accounted for nearly half those who were treated and tended to be in their 20s or 60s.
One doctor spoke of how they had turned to self-medicating as a coping mechanism for insomnia and stress.
Nearly half came forward for help themselves and the rest were referred by a psychiatrist or colleague.
More than half continued to practise and others took a break from work for a period but have since returned or plan to do so in the future.
The service is non-judgmental and complete confidentiality is assured. "We want to get the message out there that health professionals in difficulty can come to us to have their health needs met," Dr Delargy said.
"Early intervention is key and while taking that first step can be extremely challenging for the person involved or their friend or family, it can also be lifesaving."
Statistics show recovery rates are very good.