The Necessary Health Treatment Most Doctors Are Too Embarrassed to Get

January 15th 2017

Thor Benson

There are a lot of stigmas associated with mental health issues — and especially surrounding seeking treatment for mental health issues — and those stigmas also impact those working in the medical field.

A new survey of 2,000 physicians, which was published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, asked U.S. physicians if they believed they were struggling with mental health issues. It found around half of the participants did believe they have dealt with a significant mental issue, and they chose not to seek treatment. 

depressed woman

Why doctors avoid getting treated.

One of the reasons that doctors gave for avoiding treatment is that they felt they would be treated differently if people knew they were seeking mental health assistance.

"The fact there's stigma at both a personal and professional level makes a lot of sense to me," Steven Lopez, a professor of psychology and social work at the University of Southern California (USC), told ATTN:. Lopez said he thinks stigmas around mental health issues are common in our society, and that applies to doctors who handle mental health issues as well. 

When you're responsible for taking care of ill people, there's a lot of pressure to be at the top of your game, so dealing with a common but stigmatized problem like a mental health issue can be difficult.

"If somebody's not in their optimal health, it's hard to carry out whatever function both personally and professionally," Lopez said.


Medical licensing applications.

However, there's another aspect of this that doctors cited when explaining why they don't seek treatment, the Washington Post noted.

Many of the doctors surveyed pointed out that on applications for state medical licenses there are almost always questions pertaining to their mental health. Because of this, many avoid treatment so they can avoid having to divulge mental health problems on the form.

"On one hand, a professional board wants to protect the people receiving services, so they want people who are functioning as optimally as possible," Lopez said. "On the other hand, it's a private matter on the part of an individual practitioner in terms of how they can carry out their duties."

Ending mental health stigma.

Lopez is part of a campaign that aims to help people recognize mental health issues in their loved ones, and he said that can be a great way to help address mental health issues in society. "We're just opening the dialog, opening the conversations," he said.

"I think with people talking about it in both a general way, as well as in a personal way, we're going to recognize mental illness is pretty ubiquitous," he said. "It pertains to a lot of us. A lot of people. The more we talk about it, the more we can reduce the stigma that's associated with it."