Are Doctors Afraid of Mental Health Treatment?

Posted on  October 23, 2017


Physicians have a responsibility to make sure they are giving their patients quality care. A huge part of providing good care to their patients is making sure they are staying healthy themselves. While people might think that health care providers are the people most likely to stay on top of their health, this is not always the case. Stigmas against mental health are keeping doctors from seeking the care they need. Physicians fear for restrictions on their license or negative consequences. Should they disclose their history or present mental health conditions, they feel they are putting themselves and their careers at risk. In this article, we will discuss some of the statistics and reasons behind why doctors are afraid of mental health treatment.

Doctors and Mental Health

According to the American Association of Suicide Prevention, up to 400 physicians commit suicide every year. This is one of the highest suicide rates among any profession. While the rates of mental illness are consistent with the general population, it is going untreated. National studies involving over 800,000 US physicians showed that 6% struggled with suicidal thoughts, but only 40% sought out treatment. There is no doubt that doctors are dealing with poor mental health, but why aren’t they seeking treatment?

Reasons Doctors are Not Seeking Treatment

  • Lack of Confidentiality: Once disclosed, their medical record and history of mental illness are now in the hands of their employers. This instills fear in the minds of doctors. They worry, because of the stigmas surrounding mental health, that this will affect their work environment.
  • State Requirements: Certain states in the U.S. will prevent an individual from practicing medicine in that state if they have a history of or current mental health condition.
  • Career: Stigmas against mental illness have formed policy in a lot of healthcare organizations that can derail a physician’s career. If they disclose their mental health condition, they may be required to follow a policy that involves removing themselves from practice.

Next Steps

The next step in helping doctors who struggle with a mental illness find help is reversing the stigma. There is a wide-ranging opinion of mental health that it prohibits a doctor from doing their job correctly, or that they shouldn’t be practicing at all. The reality is that if the field of medicine becomes more accepting and open to the fact that doctors are not immune to mental illness, we can promote positive change. Physicians need treatment for mental health just as much as the general population. A doctor who is proactive about their mental health, like the rest of their health, is able to provide better care to their patients. Contact the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI) to find out how you can contribute to fighting the stigma against mental illness.

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