President's message for World Family Doctor Day

May 19th is our special day of the year, where we remind ourselves and the rest of the world that our work deserves recognition and celebration.

Many of our member organisations planned ahead, and their events will be on the WONCA website for us all to enjoy and share. I hope you will all be proud of the great work you do for patients, and feel part of our big family doctor community, as we mark the occasion together.

Each year we choose a theme to consider – this year was ‘depression’, which may not seem a very celebratory topic! Three reasons – first, depression, like many other mental health problems, remains a stigmatising condition for many, which may be difficult to talk about and to get help with. Even in the 21st century U.K., I still see patients who neither recognise their symptoms as psychological, nor feel comfortable with my efforts to understand them and the background to their problems. The loss of confidence and negative thinking that is part of a depressive episode leads people to feel they are failing themselves and others – and this makes seeking help and disclosing harder. Gender and culture also influence people’s insight into depression, and can help or hinder our patients - so we all need to make the public aware that depression is an important and common problem, where people deserve help, and that this need is nothing to be ashamed of.

The next reason is that seeking help can be a healing process. Depression is often a consequence of life’s adversities – a natural reaction to chronic stressors, losses, and personal ‘damage’, including childhood traumas. Confiding in someone else who is experienced in helping with psychological problems can aid insight into the causes of depression, and enable people to start a new journey. Research evidence has allowed us to be confident that a combination of constructive relationships (including with a family doctor), psychological interventions (such as cognitive behavioural techniques), and medications if indicated can together increase people’s long-term resilience and coping strategies, thus making further episodes of depression less likely. So the theme of depression is consistent with hope for the future!

Our third reason to choose this is to mark the issue as important within WONCA. The theme draws attention to the need for us all as family doctors to be effective as communicators and clinicians who can pick up cues, listen with our hearts and minds, ask the right questions, and explain our diagnoses in a way that patients and their families can understand and work with. We are blessed with an active WONCA Working Party on Mental Health (WWPMH), currently chaired by Prof Chris Dowrick, who has done important research into depression. Chris is leading some really great work on resources for our members to help us improve our knowledge and skills for mental health work: you can see these on the WWPMH link on the WONCA website.

We also need to remember that we ourselves can be at risk of depression – quite a high risk, in fact, because of the nature of our work as family doctors, which can lead to psychological exhaustion and stress-related symptoms. So this was another reason to send this message on World Family Doctor Day – take care of yourselves as well as others: ask for help from colleagues, family and friends if needed: do not blame yourself for things that cannot easily be changed; and speak to your own family doctor if the going gets really tough. We can all use a helping hand from time to time – WONCA and its networks are there for you, we thank you so much for the work you do, and wish you well for the next year. Well done!

Amanda Howe
President

More on World Family Doctor Day 2017