MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Katherine J. Gold, MD MSW MS
Department of Family Medicine
Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation; Depression Center
University of Michigan
With co-authors Louise B. Andrew MD JD; Edward B. Goldman JD; Thomas L. Schwenk MD
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: It is common knowledge that physicians are often hesitant to seek care for mental health concerns. Knowing that female physicians have increased rates of both depression and suicide, we surveyed female physicians who were mothers and who participated in a closed FaceBook group about their mental health, treatment, and opinions about licensing. More than 2100 U.S. physicians responded, representing all specialties and states.
Almost half of participants reported that at some point since medical school they had met criteria for a mental illness but didn’t seek treatment. Reasons included feeling like they could get through without help (68%), did not have the time (52%), felt a diagnosis would be embarrassing or shameful (45%), did not want to ever have to report to a medical board or hospital (44%), and were afraid colleagues would find out (39%). Overall, 2/3 identified a stigma-related reason for not seeking help.
Almost half reported prior diagnosis or treatment, but just 6% of these women stated they had disclosed this to a state medical board on a licensing application, though states vary on what information they require be disclosed.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: Physicians face profound stigma and fear of professional consequences for diagnosis or treatment for mental illness, with most reporting that state licensure questions asking broad and time unlimited questions about mental health do impact personal decisions about seeking treatment. However, there has never been evidence that a blanket question about diagnosis or treatment of mental illness effectively identifies impaired physicians. Such queries have been successfully challenged in other professions for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: We need to identify successful methods of reducing stigma of mental illness among physicians. We strongly encourage state medical licensing boards to evaluate physicians by asking questions which focus on current fitness, rather than asking time-unlimited questions about conditions which may no longer be relevant or may be stable and well-controlled.
Katherine J. Gold, Louise B. Andrew, Edward B. Goldman, Thomas L. Schwenk. “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; DOI:10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2016.09.004
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