Doctors are often perceived to have a default immunity to diseases and illnesses. When the majority of the population falls sick, their first stop towards recovery is usually to a doctor’s office. This mentality extends not just to patients, but also to the doctors themselves. There is a pressure for doctors to always remain healthy, lest they disappoint their patients or colleagues.

However, doctors are also people, and the hard truth is that people succumb to illnesses at some point or another. In the case of doctors, studies have shown that doctors report a higher rate of psychological distress and attempted suicide than the rest of the population, perhaps due to the nature of their job, which involves a substantial level of stress and responsibility for lives apart from their own.

In most cases, doctors with mental illnesses choose to keep it under wraps, due to the stigma of mental disorders and the fear that being found out may cause them their careers. If they do seek help, it only comes in the form of rushed corridor consultations instead of letting themselves be a patient rather than a doctor. Some take pains to travel further for consultation, in order to avoid any unwanted coincidental meetings with a fellow acquaintance in the field.

Other times, doctors are in denial about their symptoms, not wanting to over-diagnose themselves due to paranoia.

This brings up the question: should doctors be more transparent about their own mental illnesses, and how will doing so affect themselves, as well as the people around them? Here we weigh some of the advantageous and disadvantageous aspects that may arise:

Advantageous aspects

1. Receiving support and acceptance

The first step towards recovery is acceptance. Should a doctor choose to acknowledge the symptoms of their mental illness, they will naturally want to find ways to get better.

It is important that doctors do not regard having mental health issues as a weakness, which is a stigma amongst doctors, since they are supposed to be curing others, and are uncomfortable with letting others know that they are in need of help.

2. Decreased likelihood to harm patients

There is a lower probability of harming patients if a doctor is in a better state of mind. If depression in doctors is left untreated, there is a possibility of developing pathological cynicism, which is defined as an indifference towards the chronically ill, and a decrease in empathy levels.

Depression is a common mental illness among doctors, with symptoms including insomnia and poor concentration, which will affect a doctor’s ability to practice medicine accurately.

Disadvantageous aspects

1. Risk of losing their career

By letting their mental illnesses be known, it carries the risk of losing their job or being banned from practice, depending on the context of their situation e.g. having addictions as a coping mechanism.

Medical school is not easy, and often hardships and sacrifices are involved in the path to becoming doctors. Many doctors are unwilling to take the risk, not wanting to let their hard work and career that they have invested so much time and effort into go to waste.

2. Loss of patients’ faith and confidence

We are least likely to seek help from someone who requires the same assistance that we need. In the same context, patients may bring this mentality along with them when they find out that their doctor is in fact, not as invincible as they had perceived them to be.

This may lead to weak doctor-patient trust and in worst case scenarios, the doctor may lose their patient.

For the most part, doctors’ reluctance to reveal their mental health problems stem from the way society views mental illnesses. Many of us tend to link mental illnesses to being weak, unconfident and not having a strong mind-set, or simply just being negative about everything.

If the world could lift the stereotype and accept mental illnesses as something that is on par with physical ailments, perhaps our doctors will be more willing to acknowledge their own illnesses, which ultimately benefits everyone. MIMS


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