Utilization and barriers to mental health services among depressed medical interns: a prospective multisite study

J Grad Med Educ. 2010 Jun;2(2):210-4. doi: 10.4300/JGME-D-09-00086.1.


Background: Compared with graduate students and young adults in the general population, depression is more prevalent among training physicians, yet physicians are often reluctant to seek mental health treatment. The purpose of this study is to identify perceived barriers to mental health treatment among depressed training physicians.

Methods: Subjects for this study were drawn from intern classes during the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 academic years from 6 and 13 participating community and university hospitals, respectively. At 3-month intervals throughout the intern year, participants completed the Patient Health Questionnaire regarding current depressive symptoms and questions regarding current mental health treatment. We explored potential barriers to mental health treatment at the end of the intern year and determined the proportion of subjects screening positive for depression and seeking treatment through analysis of subject responses. Stepwise binary logistic regression was conducted to compare baseline characteristics among depressed interns who sought mental health treatment and those that did not.

Results: Of the 42.5% (278 of 654) of interns who screened positive for depression, 22.7% (63 of 278) reported receiving treatment during the intern year. The most frequently cited barriers to seeking treatment were time (91.5%), preference to manage problems on their own (75.1%), lack of convenient access (61.8%), and concerns about confidentiality (57.3%). Interns who had previously sought treatment for depression were more likely to seek treatment during internship.

Conclusions: Despite high rates of depression, few interns appear to seek mental health treatment due to time constraints, lack of convenient access, concerns about confidentiality, and a preference to manage problems on their own. By identifying barriers to mental health treatment we can begin to remove obstacles to the delivery of evidence-based treatments and implement prevention, screening, and early detection programs to improve the mental health of physicians in training.