Stigma is a weighted word—one that shouldn’t be tossed around lightly. In the case of mental health among health care professionals, especially physicians, it is correct to say there is a stigma to be considered when one is faced with mental health challenges. It’s well-known that physicians and other health care professionals experience extreme amounts of stress and are exceedingly susceptible to anxiety and depression. What’s less known is that in some states, licensing applications ask for mental health history going back more than a year. Because of this, nearly 40% of U.S. physicians are reluctant to seek mental health care out of fear of losing their license.
While it may seem appropriate to ask for the mental health history of a practicing physician, it is prohibiting some physicians from leading a normal, healthy life. In previous research, it was found that some state medical boards sanction doctors for having any kind of mental health diagnosis, and, even if the state doesn’t impose restrictions, disclosing mental health conditions often leads to professional discrimination. So, what are your options? Keep the issue to yourself or disclose your mental health condition and face the consequences of a restricted license and professional discrimination.
Obviously, neither option is desirable. Dr. Liselotte Dyrbye and her research team from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota set out to discover how prevalent hesitance to reporting personal mental health conditions is among physicians. Their research showed that of 5,829 survey participants, 2,325 reported that they were reluctant to report mental health issues out of fear that it may negatively affect their medical license. In addition, the American Psychiatric Association has found no evidence that a doctor who has been treated for a mental illness in the past is any more likely to harm a patient than a doctor with no history of mental health problems.
Dr. Dyrbye and her team want to “improve the work lives of physicians so they can deliver excellent, compassionate care to their patients.” Their research provides insight into the mind of a doctor and how the fear of reporting mental health disturbances is real. By conducting this research and talking about the issue, maybe the stigma surrounding mental health of physicians will diminish and those needing help will feel secure enough to seek it.