It’s a topic that many individuals would prefer to ignore, yet the research is clear: Many physicians are struggling but they don’t always feel comfortable speaking up.

Recent studies have found that nearly 30% of physicians have symptoms or a diagnosis of depression and approximately half of all clinicians experience burnout during their careers. However, reaching out to a psychiatrist is easier said than done.1

Similar to society in general, there is still a significant amount of stigma surrounding mental health in the medical field. Physicians have the added worry about the fate of their licenses: both licensing applications and hospital accreditation forms ask about mental health history. Licensing boards can even go so far as interviewing the individual’s psychiatrist and reviewing notes from the sessions. These fears prevent many individuals from taking time to find help.

For more than 15 years, Julie Chilton, MD, a child psychiatrist at the Yale Child Study Center and in private practice in Asheville, North Carolina, has been speaking out about strategies for breaking this culture of stigma.

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“It needs to start from the top,” said Dr Chilton in an interview with Medical Bag. “[Senior doctors] can set the example and say, ‘There are people all around you who have gotten help and understand how you’re feeling.’ But because nobody talks about it, the perception from the trainees and the medical students is that they are the only ones.”

By bringing this topic out of the shadows, finding care for mental health issues can become a more normalized conversation.2,3

Dr Chilton added that it is imperative that physicians and medical students be given resources for seeking help. This information should include how much the visits cost, the number of sessions, and the rules about confidentiality.

The American Psychiatric Association website has many valuable resources, including a search function, “Find a Psychiatrist,” which helps locate psychiatrists nearby. The American Psychiatric Association also has a wellness website with resources for physicians struggling with burnout and mental health issues.

References

  1. Mata DA, Ramos MA, Bansal N, et al. Prevalence of depression and depressive symptoms among resident physicians: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2015;314(22):2373-2383.
  2. Chilton J. “Dude — me, too!”: the importance of wellness mentorship from day one. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2017;56(9):721-722.
  3. American Psychiatric Association. Dr. Julie Chilton on Leading the Way by Seeking Help. https://vimeo.com/262974769. April 2018. Accessed May 1, 2018.