GP and wellbeing advocate, Dr Anita Raja, spoke to Medworld about her experiences as a doctor and the challenges of maintaining good mental health in the profession.
"I was born into a South Asian family and the dream of having a doctor in your family outweighs any other worldly desires. My father always wanted me to become a doctor, I personally was always into performing arts."
Dr Raja revealed that she has experienced burnout, a common issue among healthcare professionals. She highlighted the overwhelming demand for medical care, lack of access to secondary care, social care, mental health, and housing support as the causes.
"There is huge information overload on the internet, which increases health anxiety and overmedicalisation of normal life. I am a family physician (GP) and I deal with people from cradle to grave, all ages, diverse. Yet, due the huge under staffing and overwhelming demand of medical care, lack of access to secondary care, social care, mental health, lack of housing support ... we end up managing issues which sometimes leave us helpless and frustrated because we cant meet the patient's need. We are trained to offer high quality care and when we fail to meet that standard, we burn out. The BMA has reported that 90% GPs have felt burnt out at some point in their career, more so post pandemic."
Despite these challenges, she has learned to take breaks, switch off her phone, engage in mindfulness, and spend quality time with her family. She stresses the importance of being grateful and putting things into perspective, which has helped her maintain her mental health and wellbeing.
"I sometimes just sit in my garden and listen to the birds chirping this is the biggest form of appreciation of health and life. I belong to a culture where we are reminded again and again to be grateful for what we have. I always try to put things into perspective, my husband and sons play a huge role to maintain my sanity."
Becoming an advocate for mental health and wellbeing
Dr Raja is a passionate advocate for wellbeing and mental health, motivated by her own experience of cultural values that silenced her mental health struggles.
"Having a nervous breakdown around the time my son was born in 2013," prompted her to become an advocate.
She worked with Acacia Family Support to spread awareness about perinatal mental health in the South Asian community. Watch: Dr Anita talks about perinatal mental health in Urdu - YouTube
She believes that our lows and failures help us evolve into better people and highlight the paramount effects of mental health on relationships, "had I not suffered myself I would have been oblivious of the paramount affect it can have on us and our relationships," she explained.
Dr Raja has also worked to overcome vaccine hesitancy among the BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) community.
"I am multilingual. I used this as a tool during the Covid-19 pandemic. BBC Asian Network was looking for URDU speakers and I have a background of broadcasting for Pakistan Television, hence I recorded 4 videos for them which helped spread awareness within our URDU /Hindi speaking community."
Her awareness around mental health and wellbeing allowed her to recognise the challenges that the pandemic has brought to healthcare professionals and she emphasises the need to take care of oneself.
"I think Covid-19 pandemic was a challenging time for healthcare professionals. I was pregnant and delivered in August 2020, it was a huge learning curve for us all reminding us what we have signed up for, a real world war zone: man vs virus. The anxiety was real, yet I am glad we all played our role as health care professionals and pulled through."
Advice for other doctors
Dr Raja advises doctors who want to start attending to their health and wellbeing to speak to someone, and not blame themselves for letting others down. She emphasises the importance of looking after oneself, stating that one can only look after others if they are well enough themselves.
"I try to count my blessings , it's important to never lose insight. Everybody has something to be grateful for."
Her message highlights the importance of maintaining good mental health in the healthcare profession, where burnout and other issues can be common. Her experiences and advice offer valuable insight and encourage healthcare professionals to prioritise their wellbeing.
"Please, look after yourself. If you are struggling to don't shy away to speak to your supervisor, your colleagues, don't blame yourself for letting others down. You can only look after others if you are well enough yourself. If you feel low, depressed, burnt out .... you are more likely to take wrong decisions and put others at risk. Stop and ask yourself are you safe to work? If you even have glimmer of doubt take a step back till you feel fully confident"
You can connect with Dr Anita Raja on the following pages: