Top 5 self-care tips for psychiatrists

Whether you're a consultant psychiatrist or a trainee, self-care is a vital component of your professional practice. In fact, the RANZCP Code of Ethics states 'Psychiatrists shall ensure that their physical and mental health allows them to act responsibly and competently'.

Take up the challenge to genuinely reflect on which of these areas you're doing well in, and in which areas you could do more.

1. Have your own GP and have regular check-ups

None of us in the medical profession should ever be our own doctor – we all need and deserve good independent and objective medical advice.

Dr Kym Jenkins

In theory, you probably agree that all doctors should have their own GP, but do you have one yourself? If you only take one step towards better self-care, make finding a GP your top priority.

Find a GP you like and trust now, before you need them. To find a GP in your area who has training and experience in treating doctors, phone your local doctors' health and advisory service. Visit the DRS4DRS website for local contacts in your state or territory within Australia, or call 0800 471 2654 in New Zealand.

Your GP can offer objective assessment and appropriate management of your health situation, which isn't possible via self-diagnosis or in 'corridor consultations' with colleagues.

Set up regular check-ups, to ensure you undergo all standard preventative screening and monitoring.

2. Avoid self-prescribing

The RANZCP strongly recommends that psychiatrists avoid self-prescribing, and that psychotropic drugs, sedatives, analgesics, and other drugs of addiction are never self-prescribed.

You must also abide by the guidelines of your relevant medical board (the Medical Board of Australia or Medical Council of New Zealand), as well as the legislation that applies to where you work and live.

3. Recognise when you're feeling stressed or burnt out

In jobs involving prolonged stress, as is the case for many psychiatrists, the risk of ‘burnout’ is high.

People feeling burned out may feel reluctant to go to work, a lack of satisfaction in their job, guilty that they can't get on top of their workload, or irritable with colleagues or patients.

The British Medical Association has an online Burnout Questionnaire for Doctors. Take the questionnaire to see how you score.

If you're experiencing symptoms of burnout, don't hesitate to seek help. The evidence shows that tackling stress and burnout is more effective if done earlier.

4. Build effective coping mechanisms

When a psychiatrist experiences mental illness, the 'them and us' divide suddenly changes. That can be very challenging, but you are not alone. With the challenges, and over time, can also come new partnerships and opportunities.
  RANZCP Fellow with a lived experience of mental illness

Take the advice you would give any patient about dealing with stress: build strategies to deal with it, or attempt to change the practicalities of your situation.

Many psychiatrists who have faced difficulty say that it was objective psychological assistance that helped them turn the corner.

Speak to your local doctors' health and advisory service about your needs – they will be able to refer you to appropriate psychological services. Visit the DRS4DRS website for local contacts in your state or territory within Australia, or call 0800 471 2654 in New Zealand. Alternatively, there are effective online psychotherapy programs available.

In terms of practicalities, can you seek help in your personal life – perhaps from a financial planner, cleaner, housekeeper or child-care worker?

In your professional life, can you say no to new referrals, be stringent in building in break times, review your personal life/work life boundaries, or speak to your practice staff about ways to ensure you get the breaks you need?

There's no question that these things are easier said than done, but even small changes might give you the space you need.

5. Maintain an effective support network

Many psychiatrists say that having a peer support network of doctors facing similar challenges is very important to their wellbeing. Support networks outside the workplace are also important, whether family, social, sporting, or religious.

Evaluate your support networks by thinking through the question of who you'd look to for help if you experienced a major crisis tomorrow.

Who would you turn to for professional advice on medical matters? What about legal advice? To debrief with after the event? To cover your work? To provide help with home and family arrangements?

If there are gaps in your support system, try to take a tactical approach to fill them before you need the help. Some suggestions for building your professional network are on the I need support page.

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