Psychiatry is a rewarding profession, as it's very gratifying to help the mentally ill and chemically dependent recover from their illnesses. According to 2011 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it's also a monetarily rewarding career, with psychiatrists making an average salary of $174,170. If you are considering a career in psychiatry, however, you need to be aware of the multiple hazards that psychiatrists face, including daily work in potentially dangerous, stressful situations.
Too much stress can lead to physical illness and psychological turmoil, according to a 2008 article in the "International Journal of Social Psychiatry." The authors reviewed 23 international studies asking psychiatrists about the level of stress they face in their daily working lives. Psychiatrists reported frequent exposure to stress, such as being faced with suicidal patients, and that this stress influenced both their work and personal lives.
Psychiatrists are prone to burnout, or "compassion fatigue," which is a psychological syndrome characterized by decreased job engagement. Psychiatrists tend to have emotionally intense interactions with their patients, which puts them at risk of developing burnout. A psychiatrist experiencing burnout tends to experience a lack of energy, followed by feeling detached emotionally from their patients. If the syndrome remains untreated, cynicism, indifference or callousness rises to a dysfunctional level, impairing a psychiatrist's effectiveness.
Mentally ill or chemically dependent patients sometimes become violent in a psychiatrist's office, threatening harm to themselves, the psychiatrist or both. A 2001 article in the "Jefferson Journal of Psychiatry" found that as many as 23 percent of current psychiatric residents had dealt with patient violence, with 36 percent being assaulted by patients.The psychiatrist is responsible for de-escalating these emotionally charged situations, which takes a toll over time on the psychiatrist's own mental health and well-being.
The "International Journal of Social Psychiatry" review found that 57 percent of psychiatrists reported having post-traumatic stress symptoms, which is a debilitating mental health syndrome that can even lead to suicide. A 2005 article in "The Journal of the American Medical Association" reported that physicians, including psychiatrists, are significantly more likely to commit suicide than non-physicians. Symptoms of PTSD can include flashbacks of the traumatic event, experiencing physical symptoms during the flashback, such as racing heart or sweating, nightmares and experiencing frightening thoughts.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Psychiatrists
- Jefferson Journal of Psychiatry: Patient Violence in Psychiatric Residency: A Nationwide Survey
- International Journal of Social Psychiatry: Stress, Burnout, Coping and Stress Management in Psychiatrists: Findings from a Systematic Review
- Access Medicine: What is Burnout?
- The Journal of the American Medical Association: Experts Address Risk of Physician Suicide
Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.