Monthly Archives: May 2016

Doctors with Mental Illness Fear Seeking Help Due to Stigma Within Medical Community

Western Australian GP Dr Sarah Newman had first hand experience dealing with the issue when her anxiety and depression meant she was forced to take extended leave from her job at a hospital.

Now back at work, Dr Newman still carries the weight of that stigma.

“I have a certain amount of shame and embarrassment that I couldn’t cope with being a doctor, this role I’d worked my entire life for.

“When I wasn’t coping I felt like I was the only one, the only one who couldn’t hack it,” she said.

Doctors are in the care-giving profession but Dr Newman said they were often unaware of their own well-being, let alone their colleagues’, and she said there was little in the way of support.

“It’s just such a disconnect, that what makes our patients ill, what makes people ill that we recognise, doesn’t actually seem translate to ourselves,” she said.

A 2013 survey conducted by BeyondBlue revealed one in five medical students and one in 10 early career doctors had suicidal thoughts in the 12 months before taking the survey. But even more alarmingly for the group’s CEO Georgie Harmen, close to half of the respondents feared their careers would be damaged if they spoke up about their illness.

“Those respondents thought that they wouldn’t get appointed to future jobs if they admitted they had a history of depression or anxiety,” she said.

“You’re less likely to disclose, you’re less likely to seek treatment and support if you think your colleagues and peers are going to think less of you.”

Faced with these attitudes, junior doctors often leave their illness untreated, meaning they often reach a crisis situation, according to Dr Newman.

“The thing with doctors is we have access to substances that the community don’t.

“If people reach the point where they’re profoundly depressed and suicidal, they are more likely to attempt to take their lives, and they have the deadly means by which to undertake that.”

Sparking a conversation

Dr Newman’s experience has led her, along with colleagues from the Australian Medical Association’s WA branch, to organise a symposium on doctor welfare in Perth this week.

Ms Harman hopes the Out of the Blue: Doctors in Training Welfare Symposium will contribute to getting a better conversation started in the medical community.

“Last week was R U OK Day and if that could be translated into medicine, that would be great. Just to say that to a colleague, to have that opportunity to debrief, that would be a great start.”

BeyondBlue has been looking into the issue since 2009, conducting a major literature review and surveys to collect data. It is currently running a workplace mental health program in Victoria, tailoring the program to suit the unique needs of hospital workers. Ms Harman said once it was proven it would be rolled out to other states willing to introduce it.

Your DNA Could Make You Resistant To Certain Bacteria

Scientists have already had some inklings of the relationship between genes and infectious diseases—for example, people with the genetic mutation for cystic fibrosis don’t usually get typhoid, which is caused by bacteria. Bacteria and viruses, in turn, can also affect your genes.

For this study, the researchers wanted to see if genes affected a person’s likelihood of contracting a common bacterial infection. The researchers infected 30 participants with E. coli bacteria, a common cause of diarrhea. For the next eight days, the researchers watched for symptoms—six participants basically showed no symptoms, while another six were debilitated by the infection—and then drew their blood.

The researchers were checking the blood for gene expression. While every cell might have thousands of genes, only a select few are activated at any given time, turned on throughout the process of development or by external factors like smoking and diet.

Bacteria, it seems, can also modify gene expression—when the researchers compared the gene expression of participants with severe symptoms and those with few symptoms, they found significant differences in the expression of 29 genes related to immune function. It seems that certain genes were turned on when the bacteria were present, making the participants more immune. They anticipate that those variations could help predict which patients will react strongly to an E. coli infection.

What’s not clear, though, is if the participants with few symptoms had mutations in those particular genes, or if those genes reacted more strongly to the presence of the bacteria. To answer that question and to further confirm their findings, the researchers hope to perform similar experiments with other types of bacteria and viruses, paying special attention to those 29 genes they suspect play a role in disease resistance. If they’re right, it’s possible that someday, treatments for infectious diseases might rely more on epigenetics, activating infection-resistant genes so that patients suffer less.

Dead After Claim of Gastro on Pacific Jewel Cruise Ship

One woman has died and several people are said to be unwell after what a family member said was an outbreak of gastroenteritis on a cruise ship off the coast of Queensland.

The P&O Pacific Jewel cruise ship left from Sydney on September 6 for a 10-night “Barrier Reef Discovery” cruise. P&O said there had not been a gastro outbreak on the ship.

Margaret Carlson boarded with her daughter and teenage grandson. It was the 79-year-old’s seventh cruise in 10 years after her husband passed away, and she was looking forward to the journey after being upgraded to a luxury cabin.

She soon began showing signs of gastro and was told by medical staff that she had probably brought the bug onto the ship with her, her family says. Her daughter and grandson also fell ill after boarding the ship.

On Saturday afternoon, when the ship was docked at Yorkeys Knob in Cairns, Mrs Carlson’s family discovered she had died in her room.

Police were called to inspect the scene and determined she had died of natural causes several hours earlier. An autopsy will be performed.

Mrs Carlson’s daughter Vanessa D’Souza, 41, said her mother’s death was sudden and extremely upsetting.

“I keep getting these bunches of flowers at home and I just want to scream because I’m like, ‘Oh, these flowers are beautiful and mum would love them’, but she’s not here,” Ms D’Souza said.

“My first priority was to let people know, because I thought you would not want to send your mother or grandmother on that [ship].”

Ms D’Souza has been in contact with her sister, who will remain on the ship until it arrives back in Sydney on Friday, where it will dock briefly before leaving again with fresh passengers.

A P&O spokesperson acknowledged the death but denied there was a gastro outbreak.

“An elderly passenger sadly passed away on Saturday on Pacific Jewel and our thoughts are with her family,” the spokesperson said. “There is no reported gastro outbreak onboard the ship.”

Queensland Health said it had not been informed of gastro on a cruise ship. Gastroenteritis is not a “notifiable” condition, meaning there is no obligation to report such an outbreak.

One passenger was medically evacuated from the ship by helicopter on Monday for reasons which could not be divulged.

Ms D’Souza said most of the passengers on board “can’t wait to get off”.

“We’d like some answers,” she said. “Is there really some issue with hygiene, or is there something going wrong?”

Mrs Carlson lived on her own in a house in Terrigal on the NSW central coast, where she had lived for 18 years. She had osteoporosis, but remained mobile by using a walking frame, and on her last check-up appeared to be in good health.

Queensland Police confirmed a 79-year-old woman died on a cruise ship that was docked at Cairns on Saturday. Officers will prepare a report for the Coroner.