How to Minimize or Prevent the Risk of Depression and Anxiety Disorder in Doctors

The physician’s mental wellness is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, factor which can affect the quality of their treatment as well as their relationship with their patients. A large number of health professionals suffer from chronic anxiety and this can make it difficult for them to concentrate on their patients’ symptoms or make treatment decisions. Unfortunately, many doctors and medical students won’t seek help despite their full understanding of the destructive effects that anxiety and depression can bring.

In their study of the anxiety and depression levels of 620 physicians, Ian Campbell and Ruth Chambers discovered that 20 percent have marginal anxiety and another 20 percent suffer from high anxiety. This study of the increase in stress, anxiety and depression levels among medical practitioners was published in “Family Practice” in April 1996.

Factors that cause anxiety in doctors

A doctor’s responsibilities and workload can be anxiety risk factors. Doctors who are often on call and hardly have free time are likely to develop high anxiety levels. Doctors who are unmarried, divorced, widowed or who live alone can also suffer from anxiety. Less experienced doctors or new graduates from med school tend to experience anxiety more when dealing with illnesses and deaths, although it can happen to any doctor. Places where startling trauma or alarming life-and-death situations occur, such as in an emergency or trauma unit, can raise a doctor’s anxiety level. Doctors worry a lot about malpractice suits, and as more and more lawsuits are being filed, doctor anxiety levels are sure to rise as a result.

Treatment and prevention

Psychological interventions can greatly reduce or even stop anxiety in doctors. A study in 2004 has shown that when cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy, is applied to a patient, negative thoughts and behaviors are replaced with positive ones.

To prevent anxiety brought by their work, doctors should be mindful of how long they work and the number of hours they are on call. Doctors should also allocate a sufficient amount of free time for rest and recreation for themselves. Anxiety is reduced with age and experience, and doctors who are more familiar with pain and death are less likely to feel anxiety or depression. Anxiety can also be reduced if doctors cut the time they spend in stress-filled emergency room or burn unit.

In spite of the many therapies and mental health programs available, medical practitioners who suffer from anxiety find it hard to seek help due to a number of reasons. Among these help-seeking barriers are the embarrassment, shame or stigma that will follow, impression on patients and colleagues, confidentiality, and effect on career. Doctors and med students are less likely to approach health services or their colleagues for help, fearing that it will adversely affect their career and may put their professional integrity in question. Neither are they likely to seek help from their family and friends, knowing what stigma can do to their career.

Online help programs

For those who are afraid or too embarrassed to seek help from friends or colleagues, there are a number of mental health and wellbeing programs online specifically for doctors with anxiety disorder. Their aim is to provide access to resources and information that promote psychological wellbeing among health professionals. They also provide a private line to a personalized assistance program for doctors with anxiety disorders and depression. Transactions using these online programs are confidential and free of charge.


Though the views expressed above are solely the writer’s, Blanchard supports “The Dose with Dr. Goodhook” and is partnering with Adventures in Medicine to create an open, inspiring and insightful community for residents and physicians. Click here to learn more about ways that Blanchard is making practice purposeful.

About the Author:

Ryan Rivera is an author and panic attack/anxiety sufferer. He writes about anxiety and other health issues at