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Should Doctors Fear Losing Their License Over Mental Health Issues?

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According to a Newsmax report, nearly 40 percent of practicing doctors are reluctant to seek out help for mental health issues out of fear over losing their medical license. The problem is even more prevalent in states where doctors were questioned about mental health issues over the past year. In those states, doctors are even more reluctant to answer questions about mental health issues.

Doctors nationwide are very wary of the mental health questions being asked on licensing applications. “Sadly, a number of these mental health issues are treatable, but go unchecked and lead to suicide,” said Mayo Clinic Professor Dr. Liselotte Dyrbye.

Why Doctors Are Wary

Research shows that some doctors may be justified in their fears over answering questions about their mental health. According to some medical data, certain state medical boards will sanction doctors with mental health issues. Other studies have revealed that the disclosure of certain mental health information creates stigmas and discrimination.

Every state has its own licencing process for doctors. According to Dr. Dyrbye, The Federation of State Medical Boards isn’t advised to ask about prior mental health due to potential 1990 American With Disabilities Act violations.

Dr. Katherine Gold says the licencing system is creating roadblocks for doctors to seek help. The University of Michigan Ann Arbor professor notes, “The questions make it very hard for doctors who need help, seek help. Most think there will be some type of restriction placed on their license.”

Worry Over Sanction

The issue is particularly worrisome, especially when considering the high rate of suicide deaths among physicians. “We need to be doing our best to remove the stigma surrounding doctors who suffer from mental illness. Doctors are just human beings. And like all human beings, they have problems too,” said Gold.

The renewal license application from 5,800 doctors were analyzed by Drybye and her team. The answers were eye-opening. It was found that 32 of the licensing boards out of the reported 48 states question doctors about their mental health past. Over a third of the respondents reported that fear of giving truthful answers regarding mental health would result in some type of sanction. This in turn has made them reluctant in seeking help.

Doctors On Removing The Stigma & Questioning

Dyrbye said the American Psychiatric Association has found no proof that a doctor treated for mental illness is any more likely to harm a patient than one who has not. Dr. Dyrbye says it is important that barriers are removed so that doctors can get the mental health help they need. The goal is to make doctors healthy, happy, and in the position to give the best care to their patients, noted Dr. Dyrbye.

Both Dr. Gold and Dr. Dyrbye are petitioning state licensing their boards to stop asking questions related to a doctor’s mental health. They say the only relevant questions should pertain only to things within the past calendar year.

“Doctors should not have to suffer due to a stigma. If there is no proof that a doctor’s past mental illness diagnosis poses harm to a patient, it should be left alone,” said Dr. Dyrbye

Dr. Thomas Schwenk has also chimed in on the issue. The University of Nevada-Reno School of Medicine Dean says the state licensing boards have better ways of asking questions, which should be utilized as quickly as possible. Dr. Schwenk says he hopes the study will change how licensing boards operate in the future.

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