Work-life imbalance ‘afflicts’ doctor couples too

Psychiatrists report increasing number of couples who are in need of help.
Psychiatrists report increasing number of couples who are in need of help.
Doctors too don’t seem to be immune to the disease called ‘occupational hazard’. Hyderabad-based psychiatrists are reporting increased incidence of old mates from medical college approaching them for help in dealing with work-life crises. And these happen to practising doctor couples in particular.

While mostly such `patients’ turn up pretending to seek treatment for their children’s behavioural problems, but a little probing by psychiatrists often brings to surface the marital discord in their own lives which is the cause of what was touted as a ‘problem’ in the kids.

Though the number of cases involving doctors seeking psychiatrist help may not be high -at three or four couples a month -a survey by a city-based psychiatrist found that three in 10 doctor couples lived with marital discord that in turn affected their children.

“It is important that couples who are both doctors realise that they are as vulnerable as other working couples in developing psychiatric morbidity. This is more so in case of doctor couples working in emergency departments,” said Dr Kandrakonda Srinivas, a neuro-psychiatry consultant in Kukatpally .

Those high on the vulnerability list are couples who are surgeons, anaesthetists, paediatricians and gynaecologists, who work long hours and have to attend to unscheduled emergencies which ultimately affect the time they devote to interpersonal relations.

“Besides affecting their marital life, it also leaves work-related psychological health effects that include burnout, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fatigue, stress, depression and anxiety,” said Dr Srinivas, who said he sees three or four doctor couples a month with such problems.

Ditto in case of Dr Yerra Sridhar Raju, state president of Telangana chapter of Indian Psychiatric Society, who counsels four-five doctor couples a month at his hospital in Warangal, and maintains that such occurrence is more or less consistent across the state.

“The causes for marital discord are many among working doctor couples, but it mainly surrounds on one question -Who looks after children and other family affairs when both are doctors,” said Dr Sridhar Raju. Interestingly, he points out that in spite of disharmony, such couples prefer to stay together due to several reasons.

In fact, examples abound how marital discord among doctor couples due to poor work-life balance resulted in schizophrenic behaviour or substance addiction in their children.

“In one case, an adolescent child of a gynaecologist-anaesthetist couple got so neglected that the youngster landed up before me with psychotic behaviour. Ironically, the couple blamed each other for what has become of their child,” said a woman psychiatrist with a city corporate hospital.
In another instance, a meritorious medico from Osmania Medical College and son of a doctor couple with a roaring practice running their own hospital in Himayatnagar, dropped out from medical college.

There are also cases when one of the partners wanted to make the marriage work, but failed despite genuine effort. “In hindsight, I think one of the factors that led to the breakdown in our relationship was that I could not devote time to my doctor wife,” said a doctor whose ENT-specialist wife walked away from the marriage two years ago. So, is there a solution?

One psychiatrist attached to a corporate hospital said, “Doctor couples should understand each other and their work demands. They need to share responsibilities, prioritise time and stop blaming each other in crisis situations. But most importantly, they must take out personal time to destress.”

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