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Stressed out Midwives turning to substance abuse

Stressed out Midwives turning to substance abuse: A Coventry University academic wants more support for midwives after a survey revealed more than a quarter of participants were engaging in problematic substance use.

Dr Sally Pezaro, Fellow of the Royal College of Midwives and researcher in the Centre for Arts Memory and Communities (CAMC) at the university wants to work with NHS and government policy decision makers to tackle this issue after a survey of 623 midwives revealed just over a quarter had turned to drugs and alcohol.

Ten per cent admitted they had attended work under the influence of alcohol, and 6% under the influence of drugs other than tobacco or those as prescribed to them.

The survey highlighted the extent of substance use in midwives but also investigated the reasons why health professionals turned to substances as well as the help-seeking process.

The survey found:

  • Problematic substance use occurred in response to work-related stress and anxiety, bullying, traumatic clinical incidents and the need to function in everyday life as a midwife
  • Barriers to help-seeking included fear of repercussions, shame, stigma, practicalities, and a perceived lack of support either available or required
  • While 11% of those affected indicated they had sought help, 27% felt they should seek help but did not
  • 37% indicated concern about a colleague’s substance use

One of the anonymous survey participants explained that the alleged response of their employers to a colleague’s substance use encouraged people not to seek help.

They said: “Rather than helping her, she got sacked, named and shamed… this sends a very powerful message to others… we need help? We get destroyed! No wonder we soldier on in silence!”

Dr Pezaro collaborated with fellow Coventry University academic Gemma Pearce, Assistant Professor, School of Psychological, Social and Behavioural Sciences, Nottingham Trent University academic Dr Karen Maher and Liz Bailey from the Centre for Social Care, Health and Related Research, at Birmingham City University on the research project.

She believes the key is to use these findings to make positive change to the health and wellbeing policies and support systems for midwives.

She said: “This data should make people stand up and listen to the plight of midwives.

“We want a greater recognition of this issue and hope this data will be a catalyst for change and a reduction in stigma.

“Now that this issue has been highlighted – we would like to work with policy and decision makers in co-creating solutions which reduce risk.

“Presently, many midwives engaged in problematic substance use feel unable to seek help. If we can highlight this issue and encourage a change in perceptions, stigma, policy, and the provision of support then this work will have achieved its goal in making a difference. Yet our overall aim is to give all midwives the opportunity to receive compassionate support where required, so that they may continue to deliver excellence in care every day.

“For that we need policymakers and decision makers to stand up and listen.”

Dr Pezaro will now look to collect similar data to see if the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this problem and will be presenting the results of this research and broader analysis at the International Practitioner Health Summit 2022 with leading international health practitioners.

If you are a midwife, you can find out how you can participate in the new survey here.

The full findings of the research can be found here

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