Physician Mental Health: Preventing Suicide & Building Resilience
Awareness of high rates of burnout, depression and suicide in physicians and other health care professionals is leading to changes within the medical profession at all levels. Most mental health problems can be effectively managed, but real and perceived barriers such as confidentiality concerns and fear of negative ramifications on one’s reputation, licensure or hospital privileging keep many physicians from addressing their mental health needs. Unattended distress has ramifications for physicians, as well as the health care industry and patient
safety. In addition to individual risk factors and stress load, institutional culture plays a critical role leading physicians to rationalize distress as part of their professional identity. There are several initiatives with demonstrated effectiveness in medical settings which can be scaled up for greatest impact: education and stigma reduction efforts, policies and procedures that treat mental health on par with physical
health and efforts that promote an overarching culture of respect. Further strides can be made by addressing hospital and state licensing forms’ questions related to mental health, ensuring that questions pertain to competence rather than illness or replacing questions altogether with a statement encouraging proactive actions to protect physician mental health and safe practice.