Context: Recent studies have addressed the need to better understand the nature and risk of depression and suicide in physicians.
Objective: To assess the prevalence of depressive symptoms in a sample of practicing physicians, their perceptions of the impact of depression on their work lives, and their perceptions of the impact of being a physician on their pursuit of mental health care.
Design: An anonymous survey was mailed in April 2005 that included the Patient Health Questionnaire depression module (PHQ-9) and other Likert-style questions.
Participants: Five thousand randomly selected practicing physicians in Michigan, from whom 1154 usable responses were received (23% response rate).
Main outcome measures: The prevalence of depressive symptoms and the perceptions by respondents of the impact of depression on work roles and on their approach to seeking mental health care.
Results: Moderate to severe depression scores were reported by 130 physicians (11.3%). Roughly one quarter of respondents reported knowing a physician whose professional standing had been compromised by being depressed. Physicians reporting moderate to severe depression were 2 to 3 times more likely to report substantial impact on their work roles compared to physicians with minimal to mild depression scores, including a decrease in work productivity (57.7% vs. 18.5%; p < .001) and a decrease in work satisfaction (90.8% vs. 36.2%; p < .001). The same physicians were 2 to 3 times more likely to report a wide range of dysfunctional and worrisome approaches to seeking mental health care compared to physicians with minimal to mild depression scores, including a higher likelihood that they would self-prescribe antidepressants (30.0% vs. 9.9%; p < .001) and a higher likelihood that they would avoid seeking treatment due to concerns about confidentiality (50.7% vs. 17.3%; p < .001).
Conclusions: Moderate to severe depression scores are reported by a substantial portion of practicing physicians in Michigan, with important influences on physician work roles and potential negative impact on licensing and medical staff status. The risk of being stigmatized may cause depressed physicians to alter their approach to seeking mental health care, including seeking care outside their medical community and self-prescribing antidepressants. Destigmatization of depression in physicians and interventions to improve the mental health care of physicians in ways that do not compromise their professional standing should receive more attention.