According to a study recently published in General Hospital Psychiatry, female physicians are reporting a substantial and persistent fear of stigma surrounding the disclosure of mental health issues, including depression.
The study authors acknowledge that physicians are at increased risk of depression and suicide. However, requirements to disclose mental health problems on physician licensing applications may prevent them from seeking the help they need for fear that having such disclosures permanently on their records would stigmatize them.
Katherine Gold, MD, and colleagues surveyed 2016 women, most ages 30 to 59, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Approximately 50% of the women who responded believed that they met the criteria for a mental illness, but had not reached out for treatment.
The most common reasons given by the physicians for not seeking treatment were lack of time; that they believed they could treat their conditions independently; fear of reporting to a medical licensing board; and stigma surrounding mental health problems, including feeling embarrassed or ashamed.
In fact, the study found that only 6% of physicians with a formal diagnosis or treatment of mental illness had disclosed their status.
The authors suggest that licensing questions that focus more on a diagnosis or treatment as opposed to a functional impairment may contribute to treatment reluctance.
Gold, Katherine J. et al. ““I would never want to have a mental health diagnosis on my record”: A survey of female physicians on mental health diagnosis, treatment, and reporting. General Hospital Psychiatry. 2016 September. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.genhosppsych. 2016.09.004. [Epub ahead of print]