Adam B. Hill, M.D. recently wrote a sobering article published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In it he details his own demons – depression, stress, alcoholism – for all to read. He also offers the opinion that the medical profession is unwilling to accept or address mental health issues among its ranks. In the article, Dr. Hill states:
I’ve never heard a colleague say, “Dr. X wasn’t tough enough to fight off her cancer,” yet recently when a medical student died from suicide, I overheard someone say, “We were all worried she wasn’t strong enough to be a doctor.”
In addition to physicians suffering in silence by not acknowledging and getting help, untreated mental health issues and/or substance abuse or addiction in physicians puts patients at risk in environments where they should be safe. According to Dr. Hill:
The professionals who pose a risk to patient safety are those with active, untreated medical conditions who don’t seek help out of fear and shame. Physicians who are successfully engaged in a treatment program are actually the safest, thanks to their own self-care plans and support and accountability programs.
According to an article in the Washington Post, a recent survey found that half of physicians surveyed believed they met the criteria for a mental health disorder. In fact, a 2011 study revealed that more than 60 percent of surgeons had experienced suicidal thoughts. But, the article exposes, physicians are reluctant to admit to this or seek treatment, in part, out of fear of losing their license.While it is true that seeking help for an addiction or mental health disorder is a very personal decision, sacrificing a life for a livelihood is certainly not the answer. Like anything, it is with increased exposure that stigmas are removed. The question is, will you be an advocate for increased mental health wellness for fellow physicians or will you quietly stand on the sidelines?