The role of mental health stigma in perpetuating professional burnout

The foremost contributor to physician burnout may not be failure to recognize the signs or even stress of the job per se, but the continued stigma around mental illness that makes doctors and other professionals believe they should try to quietly fix these problems themselves, according to a commentary from the New York Times.

"The critical issue here is that too many physicians, especially trainees, suffer in silence, afraid to ask for help for fear that they will be punished professionally and probably, personally," wrote Aaron E. Carroll, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine.

As a medical resident, Carroll was among the 21 to 43 percent of doctors-in-training suffering from depression. He belongs to a much smaller group, however, of physicians willing to talk openly about personal struggles with mental health, he notes, adding that his colleagues still recoil when he talks about his plans to go to a therapist for the rest of his life to prevent a relapse.

Medicine is not the only field in which young professionals are profoundly reluctant to seek help for depression or substance abuse, according to a report by the Bar Examiner. Despite high prevalence of addiction, depression, anxiety and other problems among law students, more than 60 percent of those surveyed said they didn't get help for their reliance on drugs or alcohol because they were worried it would affect their career prospects or their chances of getting admitted to the bar.

Today's physicians are on the front lines of changing this perception for themselves, patients and colleagues in other highly competitive professions. The American Medical Association (AMA), for example, has made physicians' wellness and ability to thrive a top priority, noted a recent post from the organization. AMA measures to help address the epidemic include its STEPS Forward program, hosting the upcoming International Conference on Physician Health and sharing wellness resources publicly.

To learn more:
- read the NYT commentary
- see the report from Bar Examiner (.pdf)
- here's the post from the AMA