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If doctors won’t help each other, who will? Donations are already coming in from individual doctors wanting to help rescue this unique source of help for the profession – currently under threat of closure due to lack of on-going funding. “I’ve very little left to give my patients” “I’m frustrated at work and intensely lonely at home” “I’ve no-one I can safely confide in – I feel so isolated” These are some of the heartfelt comments from callers heard by the trained volunteer doctors who give up their time to staff the Doctors’ SupportLine, which is urgently appealing for funds. This helpline offers its service of listening and peer support to any doctor or medical student who needs to share their personal anxieties without fear of a comeback, guaranteed by the helpline’s policy of complete confidentiality and anonymity

The idea for this unique service came from the Doctors’ Support Network, a charity which runs support groups for doctors with mental health difficulties. They found that many called simply to share their concerns with someone who had a special understanding, i.e. another doctor, and that there was a need for a dedicated helpline for such callers, who often had no-one else in whom to confide. Set up with initial funding from the Department of Health for voluntary organisations and launched in 2002, it has received over 800 calls to date, a quarter of which are repeat callers needing ongoing reassurance and support from their peer group.

Now funds are running low for this small independent organisation. Says one of its voluntary Directors, Dr Chris Williams, “It has taken a lot of hard work and effort to recruit and train volunteer doctors and there is now a real danger that this will all disperse if we cannot raise the modest funding annually we shall need to continue. We are appealing to doctors themselves to come to our rescue, otherwise we shall have to close this year. On an individual level, if around, say, 800 doctors agreed to give us £50 a year, we could keep going. There are over 230,000 registered doctors in the UK, so we are hopeful!”

Doctors, or doctors’ organisations, who are interested in keeping this valuable service going are asked to contact The Doctors’ SupportLine office on 0207 835 5850 or to email the Project Manager [email protected]. Donations will be gratefully received at The Doctors’ SupportLine, 17-21 Wyfold Road, London SW6 6SE, and all will be acknowledged.

Meanwhile the Doctors’ SupportLine continues on 0870 765 0001 offering friendly, informal and confidential support to any doctor or medical student who needs it. Open 34 hours a week all year round including holidays.

More information:

Dr. Chris Williams, DSL Management Group: 01202 398014

Doctors’ SupportLine Office: 0207 835 5850

Deirdre McLellan, Project Manager (home) 0208 567 4682

10 May 2006


embargoed until 11.00am Thursday, October 10th 2002

Peer support helpline for distressed doctors opens today

Today, (October 10) sees the launch of a new helpline for distressed doctors. The Doctors’ SupportLine (DSL) is run by doctors for doctors and offers independent, confidential and anonymous help to doctors who need it. Doctors in England affected by burnout, depression, anxiety, mental distress, work difficulties or family worries will be able to call the DSL and talk to a fellow doctor trained to offer friendly and informal support.

The DSL has been set up by two leading medical mental health organisations, the charity Primary Care Mental Health and Education (PriMHE) and the Doctors’ Support Network, with a grant from the Department of Health. It is an entirely independent collaborative project.

Dr. Lizzie Miller, co-founder of the self-help group Doctors’ Support Network, says: “For me, being listened to and treated with respect by fellow doctors helped me recover. The knowledge that you are not alone and that there are people who will support you unconditionally is one of the most powerful medicine on the plant. We need to learn to be kinder to ourselves. The Doctors’ SupportLine offers such support and kindness.”

The DSL is staffed by volunteers, all of them doctors who know what it’s like working in a stressful medical environment. They have each undertaken a two-day selection and training course to prepare them for their new role. Primarily they will offer friendly and informal listening but where appropriate, will offer callers information about other services.

Dr. Chris Manning, co-founder and Chief Executive of Primary Care Mental Health and Education, who has personal experience of depression says: “The DSL is unique because it is offering peer support. That means doctors can call and speak to someone who shares their experience and knows what they are going through. Doctors can be sure it’s a safe place for them to call, with complete anonymity assured. We hope it will be an oasis in the desert for doctors in distress.”

The huge pressure on today’s doctors is leading to unprecedented levels of stress in the profession (see attached for research notes.) While attitudes are changing slowly doctors still feel reluctant to come forward and admit that they are in difficulty. The DSL hopes that by offering support from fellow doctors more will be persuaded to seek help before they reach crisis point.

Background to the project

The Doctors’ SupportLine (DSL) project started in December 2001, funded by a grant for £120,000 over three years from the Department of Health to the charity Primary Mental Health and Education (PriMHE), working in collaboration with the self-help group Doctors’ Support Network. 

Doctors have high expectations of themselves and this may be one factor that makes it difficult for them to ask for help. They think it more than likely that others will not understand. As a result they can feel very alone with their difficulties, be it work overload, depression, anxiety and/or problems at home.

What makes this service different from others is that it offers peer support. All calls are answered by volunteer doctors, someone with the medical training and background in common with the caller and often someone who has experienced the value of peer support themselves when the pressure became too great. The hope is that this will encourage a doctor in need to call, knowing that the person who answers is not there to “treat” them, judge them or tell them what to do but simply and informally to talk over what is concerning them. If specific information is required, volunteers will have access to an information resource about other types of help that might be appropriate. All calls are strictly confidential, and both caller and volunteer remain anonymous. Any doctor is welcome to call regardless of which medical setting they work in.

All DSL volunteers have undertaken a preparation course to work on the line, taking it in turns via a rota system. The line will be open 36 hours per weeks, spread between evenings and some daytime hours.

The number is 0870 765 0001.

Notes to editors:

  1. The Doctors’ Support Network is a self-help group, contact no. 
    07071 223372. PriMHE is a charity devoted to the mental health and wellbeing of practioners in primary care. Contact no. 020 8891 6593,

  2. For more information or to set up interviews with Dr. Manning, Dr. Miller or a DSL volunteer, please contact Deirdre McLellan, DSL Project Manager on 0207 835 5850
     or [email protected]

  3. Doctors who would like to work as volunteers for the DSL are also asked to contact Deirdre as above.