Anxiety, depression, health attitudes and coping strategies in doctors and teachers in a Cape Town setting

H van der Bijl, P Oosthuizen


Objective. To investigate two professional groups (doctors and teachers) with regard to symptoms of anxiety and depression as a measure of psychological distress, as well as perceptions regarding job satisfaction, workload and adequacy of remuneration. To assess health care behaviour as evidenced by substance use, psychotropic medication use, self-prescribing habits (in doctors), help-seeking behaviour as well as negative coping strategies as indicated by the intention to emigrate and/or leave the profession.

Design. Data were collected from randomly distributed questionnaires which included a validated objective screening instrument, the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS).

Subjects and setting. Questionnaires were distributed among 260 physicians at Tygerberg Academic Hospital and 200 teachers from five different schools in the northern suburbs of metropolitan Cape Town.

Results. We found high levels of job dissatisfaction and symptoms of anxiety and depression in both groups, with teachers more affected than doctors. A large proportion of respondents with clinically significant levels of anxiety and depression remain untreated. Many respondents displayed a passive attitude with regard to seeking help. A significant proportion of doctors self-prescribed antidepressant and benzodiazepine medications. Only a small minority of doctors had a general practitioner whom they would consult when ill. Twenty-nine per cent of doctors indicated their intention to emigrate and 40% of teachers were planning to leave their profession.

Conclusion. Our results suggest that doctors and teachers in South Africa are two professional groups at high risk for developing serious mental health problems, with low levels of recognition and intervention at present.

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Submitted: 04 October 2007
Published: 01 June 2007

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South African Journal of Psychiatry    |    ISSN: 1608-9685 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2078-6786 (ONLINE)