University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Dr Thejini Naidoo. Image: supplied by UKZN
University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Dr Thejini Naidoo. Image: supplied by UKZN

KZN doctors experience high levels of ‘burnout’, study shows

By Jehran Daniel Time of article published Oct 16, 2020

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DURBAN - A study conducted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Dr Thejini Naidoo has found that anxiety, depression and burnout are ubiquitous among doctors in KZN.

Naidoo is a psychiatry registrar based at King Edward VIII Hospital. The study formed part of Naidoo’s master’s of medicine in psychiatry and was conducted in five public training hospitals across the province under the supervision of UKZN psychiatrist Dr Saeeda Paruk and epidemiologist Dr Mitsuaki Tomita .

Naidoo said burnout consists of three elements: emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and personal incompetence.

Emotional exhaustion refers to emotional and physical fatigue, while depersonalisation invokes feelings of negativity and detachment from the job.

Personal incompetence refers to people who have feelings of inability to perform their duty and a lack of achievement at work.

“Of the 150 participants in the study, 88 screened positive for burnout indicated by emotional exhaustion or depersonalisation. A fifth also screened positive for anxiety and depressive symptoms,” said Naidoo in a statement on Thursday.

Naidoo said the organisational factors contributing towards burnout were a lack of clinical supervisor support and hospital resources. This, according to Naidoo, occurs particularly in hospitals with a lack of resources.

The study also found that individual factors contributing towards burnout were high workloads, poor working conditions, public system-related frustrations, poor management support and low work satisfaction.

“All these factors can have a negative impact on patient care and pose increased risk for psychiatric comorbidities, such as suicide, anxiety and depression. I would recommend that the Department of Health investigates the prevalence of burnout and implements evidence-based strategies,” said Naidoo.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought these contributing factors in abundance for medical staff across the province and the country.

While Naidoo’s study clearly outlines the detrimental impacts of the pandemic as well as highly stressful working conditions, the government has dubbed October as Mental Health Awareness Month.

Both the government and Naidoo reiterated that unhealthy working conditions were a prime factor contributing towards poor mental health.

According to a report published in early October by the World Health Organization (WHO), 116 (89%) countries in their study reported that mental health and psychological support was part of their national Covid-19 response plans; however, only 17% said they had committed additional funding for it.

Furthermore, the WHO said there was also evidence that suggested people became susceptible to the virus if they had poor mental health.

A study conducted by South African pharmaceutical company Pharma Dynamics showed that 56% of adults are experiencing higher levels of emotional and psychological stress than they were before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The study, in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, surveyed 1,200 adults.

The study also showed that around 81% of people turned to unhealthy food, 20% to alcohol, 18% to cigarettes, 6% to smoking cannabis and 22% to antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication to help them cope with the stress. Around 52% reported trouble sleeping.

“We are likely to see much higher rates of mental illness among South Africans post the pandemic and need to increase psychosocial support efforts to avoid a Covid-19-related mental health crisis.

“The fact that nearly half (49%) of respondents wanted to reach out to a therapist for help during the pandemic, but couldn’t due to limited financial resources or access, highlights decades of neglect and underinvestment in mental health services in our country,” said Abdurahman Kenny, mental health portfolio manager at Pharma Dynamics.

African News Agency

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