Why physicians find this topic difficult to discuss with patients

Physicians around the world are more comfortable discussing weight issues with patients than mental health issues, according to a recent survey conducted by SERMO, a social network for physicians.

The survey polled roughly 3,200 physicians from around the world about what discussions are tough to discuss with patients — and when they feel patients are the most dishonest.

The results show just 8 percent of physicians are uncomfortable discussing weight-related issues with patients, while 27 percent of physicians shy away from discussions about mental health. An American pediatrician surveyed suggested that this may be because there is not enough infrastructure to support mental health needs — so if they open the discussion, the industry will not be able to keep up with clinical requirements for addressing mental health conditions.

"[If doctors raise this issue more], depression rates in the U.S. will 'skyrocket,' SSRI sales will 'skyrocket' and we will stress an already stressed mental health infrastructure," the pediatrician wrote in the survey. SSRIs are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or antidepressant drugs. The physician continued, "To be clear, I am a strong advocate of mental health services and do treat a large subset of my patients for depression... [but] there is no infrastructure to support it."

The poll also revealed physicians believe their patients are most dishonest about drug use and domestic abuse, and most honest about tobacco use and eating and exercise habits, which may make discussions about weight easier.

One surgeon from South Africa wrote, "Diagnosis, I believe, is a Greek word: 'knowing through' or something like that. It is our job to understand complex human situations to ease suffering."


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