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Mental health issues are a growing and alarming problem, with doctors one of the groups at higher risk of poor mental health. 

But Flinders University’s Professor Paul Ward is working to protect and enhance doctors’ mental health and reduce suicide risk thanks to a Health Seed Grant from Breakthrough Mental Health Research Foundation.   

Between 2001-12, 79 doctors committed suicide in Australia.  

A national survey found that doctors have a higher risk of psychological distress and suicide than other professionals and the general population, with other mental health conditions such as burnout, depression and anxiety also common.  

However, seeking and accessing mental health services remains a problem for doctors, partly due to stigma, workplace culture, professional culture and concerns of confidentiality and registration. 

While self-help and anonymous support are important, such approaches place ultimate responsibility for mental health on the individual doctor. Structural risk factors often remain unaddressed, despite evidence that they pose a major threat to mental health.  

Prof Ward will investigate three structural influences – professional culture, organisational climate, and health service context – to identify risk and resilience factors and understand how to translate them into actionable strategies to protect and enhance doctors’ mental health and reduce suicide risk.  

This project is unique in going beyond acknowledging the traditional focus on what individuals can do to prevent their own poor mental health, instead emphasising the structural aspects in organisations and workplaces, as well as integrating the influence of the professional culture of being a doctor in different contexts.  

Project Lead: Professor Paul Ward

Project Title: Doctors’ Mental Health and Suicide Risk: Structural Risk and Resilience Factors

This research is made possible thanks to generous donations from the community, fundraisers and corporate partners.

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