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Surgical Residents Prime Candidates for Stress, Depression, Alcohol Abuse

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WEDNESDAY, Nov. 8, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Burnout is common among medical residents training to be surgeons, putting them at increased risk for alcohol abuse, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, a new study suggests.

But a stress-countering technique called mindfulness may help them, the study authors added.

"Surgical trainees live in a culture where high stress is normative, but excessive stress must be addressed," said study lead author Dr. Carter Lebares, an assistant professor in the department of surgery at the University of California, San Francisco.

"While surgical trainees have willingly chosen a high-stress career, the existence of overwhelming stress is evidenced by the strong association between stress and distress symptoms like depression, suicidal thoughts and high anxiety," Lebares added in a university news release.

His team examined the responses of 566 surgical residents in the United States who completed a confidential online survey. About 69 percent reported burnout.

Moderate to severe depression was identified in 20 percent of the surgical residents (two times higher than in the general population). And suicidal thoughts were experienced by 11 percent of the residents (more than three times higher than in the general population).

The study also found that 53 percent of the residents had high levels of stress, 49 percent misused alcohol (more than five times higher than in the general population) and their rate of alcohol abuse or dependence was 33 percent, two times higher than among practicing surgeons.

Fortunately, the researchers found that mindfulness may help surgical residents cope with their job-related stress. Mindfulness was associated with an 85 percent lower risk for having high levels of stress.

The study was published recently in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

"Mindfulness isn't about thinking nicer thoughts -- it's about recognizing stressors, learning to pause and to assess those stressors in a less reactive and emotional way," said Lebares, director of the university's Center for Mindfulness in Surgery.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on stress.

SOURCE: University of California, San Francisco, news release, Oct. 26, 2017
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