Background: Doctors have long been considered at risk of occupational stress.
Methods: A postal survey of all members of the Intensive Care Society using validated instruments.
Results: Eight-five per cent of members returned questionnaires and 70% were eligible for the study. Twenty-nine per cent were suffering General Health Questionnaire-12 (GHQ-12) identified distress and 12% Symptom Checklist-Depression (SCL-D) defined depression. There were no significant age or sex differences between staff suffering distress or depression and those who did not. Dissatisfaction with career correlated highly with both distress and depression (P<0.01). Twenty doctors (3%) were bothered by suicidal thoughts. The most stressful aspects of work were bed allocation, being over-stretched, effect of hours of work and stress on personal/family life, and compromising standards when resources are short. Logistic regression revealed mental health problems were predicted by five stressors: 'lack of recognition of one's own contribution by others'; 'too much responsibility at times'; 'effect of stress on personal/family life'; 'keeping up to date with knowledge'; and 'making the right decision alone'.
Conclusions: Nearly one in three ICU doctors appeared distressed (GHQ), and one in 10 depressed (SCL-D); this is no greater than that reported in other specialities. Perceived stressors reveal some key areas of concern for the employer and the specialty.