Despite easily accessible health care, doctors are less likely to seek help for mental health issues, according to a new study.
The study found that this under-treatment, along with job stress, were major contributors to higher rates of suicide among physicians.
Stigma, lack of confidentiality, and a desire to self-treat may explain why physicians don’t seek formal treatment for mental health problems, especially depression, said lead author Katherine J. Gold, M.D., an assistant professor of family medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology, at the University of Michigan Medical School.
“Even though this population presumably has very good access to health care, it doesn’t appear that they’re getting adequate treatment,” Gold says.
“I think stigma about mental health is a huge part of the story. There is a belief that physicians should be able to avoid depression or just ‘get over it’ by themselves.”
The study found that physicians who committed suicide were much more likely to have potentially lethal prescription medications in their system — but not medication prescribed for depression.
On-the-job stress could also be a bigger suicide risk factor for physicians, according to the study. A physician who commits suicide is far less likely to have had a recent death of a friend or family member or a crisis contribute to the suicide, but much more likely to have a problem on the job, the researcher points out.
According to Gold, this finding suggests a physician’s identity is strongly linked to the job role and physicians may be particularly vulnerable to problems at work.
“This paints a more detailed picture of external events and risk factors in a physician’s life before a suicide, rather than just looking at a death certificate,” Gold says.
“We’ve seen a number of studies now that show a high rate of anxiety, depression and burnout among both medical students and physicians but we haven’t done very much to develop programs to reduce or treat these risk factors and to increase mental health-seeking among physicians.”
The study appears in General Hospital Psychiatry.
Source: University of Michigan