Mental Health

Suffering in Silence: Mental Health Stigma and Doctors’

Doctors are healers. They pioneer research, perform lifesaving operations, and cure cancers. They also spend countless weekends and nights on call, documenting medical records and staying abreast with the latest innovations.

But one thing is for sure: In the service of others, doctors frequently neglect to care for themselves and work through illnesses, especially mental illnesses.

Yet, doctors, like everyone else, are human and require care.

Needless to say, healthcare providers across many specialties frequently operate under extreme stress. The rates of psychiatric disorders are high in these groups.

Shockingly, the suicide rates among physicians have been proclaimed to be higher than in the overall population. A study showed that 10.4% of people reported having considered suicide. At the same time, suicide thoughts among healthcare professionals are substantially higher compared with other professionals at 12.8%. Physician burnout is a mental illness and suicide contributor to the profession.

Let’s face it; mental health attitude should matter in how we deal with mental health stigma among doctors.

But, there is a problem.

The Medical Licensing Board Tied Hands 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits anyone from sidetracking a physician or invalidating licensure.

Yet, the med licensing boards get away with no repercussions.

Here is the problem; the board’s ability is tied to what state legislatures will allow them to do. The states are also caught between preventing physicians’ right to make a living and protecting patients from impaired doctors.

The truth is, the line of questioning the doctors is a significant problem because some questions are really broad and never fair. Over 60% of doctors with mental illness choose to be reluctant to seek treatment because it might jeopardize their practice license.

Ironically, the unfair questions defeat the board’s purpose. If they discourage the doctors from seeking help, the patients are not protected.

So What Can We Do About It?

Instead, licensing application questions should be about the ability of the doctors to perform their duties. Rather than asking, “Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental illness condition?”

Instead, they should inquire if you currently suffer from any physical and mental illness that prevents you from doing your duties. That’s a reasonable question.

Notably, the public funds invested, an estimated $285,000 for family physicians and $760,000 for specialists, are wasted when doctors cannot practice.

Changes To Come 

The good news is, the American Psychiatric Association found no proof that doctors who have mental illness aren’t more likely to harm their patients than those who do not. Thus, the medical licensing board should identify better ways of asking questions and remove barriers so that doctors get the necessary help.

It is paramount to have a comprehensive program that recognizes the importance of physicians’ mental health and provides them with healthy tools to overcome professional demands.

How’s that? Let me explain.

Anti-stigma interventions must become a key component of in-service and pre-service training of all healthcare professionals in all healthcare systems. Medical educators should also normalize seeking help, be wellness role models, and champion the cause throughout their work.

If you are a mental care facility or psychiatrist, take advantage of practice management software like PsychOnline, which helps avoid administrative burnout.

The states should modernize mental health requirements and adopt a hospital approach to extend doctors’ credentials, requiring endorsement of physicians’ peers or supervisors.

We need more awareness to support the National Physician Suicide Awareness Day to break the silence culture among physicians.