Doctors: “I would never want to have a mental health diagnosis on my record” Interview with:

Katherine J. Gold, MD MSW MS Department of Family Medicine Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation; Depression Center University of Michigan

Dr. Katherine Jo Gold

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 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. 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. 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


Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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1 Comment
  • Linda Dobrocky
    Posted at 19:05h, 30 September

    If this is the case…..the very physicians and their governing body which consists of physicians are the most hypocritical group of people on the face of the earth. These are the very people who are supposedly actively trying to convince the rest of the population that there should be no stigma related to mental health issues and to seek help for mental health. What hooweeee. Of everything I have read …..this article has raised my blood pressure (which is normally normal) to a very high and dangerous state of stroking out right now. Already I have experienced that the medical profession has very little to offer people with mental health issues in way too many cases as experienced and searched out for myself. This article adds insult to injury. Further it might be time for the medical doctors to to realize that they are no more or less human than the rest of the population in spite of their higher IQs and dedication to becoming trained as doctors. In other words, their feces is no less aromatic than that of anyone else. Their stigma is no less experienced than the rest of us that suffer with mental health illnesses. We all put ourselves at risk of losing everything when we disclose our illness. There are many of us who have lost everything by having made full disclosure. The governing body for physicians should be made to educate itself about mental health (because this article indicates they know squat) and work very hard to keep their doctors suffering with mental health issues working as doctors. I, for one, would not be hesitant seeing a doctor knowingly suffering with a managed mental illness. Of course, there are limitations that need to be addressed when mental illnesses would make practicing as a doctor impossible as with other illnesses that can be disclosed and not be ashamed of or stigmatized over, or careers lost over (for example: cancer, etc). For such a highly educated group of people, it is almost impossible to imagine that such level of ignorance is being practiced and brings forth even more grief to those of us that are trying so hard to openly deal with our mental health illnesses.