Fear of stigma, sanctions keep some female physicians from reporting mental health issues, study says

A new study by researchers at the Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan Health System published in General Hospital Psychiatry, suggests that some female physicians, who are also mothers, may be less likely to report mental health issues for fear of being unable to keep up with daily work or because of the stigma associated with mental conditions.

Researchers found many states require physicians to report any mental health diagnoses they receive to their state medical licensing board. The process, according to researchers, leads physicians to believe that seeking help for such illnesses may place restrictions on their medical licenses, according to the article.

Researchers asked nearly 57,000 anonymous female physicians belonging to a closed Facebook group that served as an informal parenting and career support network to participate in a survey. Of the 2,100 female physicians who participated in the survey, nearly half believed they had met the definition of what constitutes as a mental illness but had not sought treatment. Two-thirds of those women said the stigma prevented them from reporting their illnesses. Roughly 6 percent of women who were diagnosed with a mental illness reported it to their respective medical licensing boards, according to the article.

Researchers recommended medical licensing boards use different language to describe mental illness in examination questions to make physicians feel more comfortable reporting diagnoses. Another option would be to help states modernize requirements and require endorsements from a physician's colleagues or supervisors, according to the article.

"There has always been a stigma and a fear around mental illness, and that's what's reflected in many state licensing board questionnaires," said Katherine Gold, MD, professor at the University of Michigan Medical School. "There’s a huge discrepancy between what states ask about physical conditions – such as whether those conditions affect their ability to practice – and what they ask about mental conditions, where the impact on their abilities is not asked about."

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