Understanding doctors' attitudes towards self-disclosure of mental ill health

Occup Med (Lond). 2016 Jul;66(5):383-9. doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqw024. Epub 2016 Mar 29.


Background: Understanding of doctors' attitudes towards disclosing their own mental illness has improved but assumptions are still made.

Aims: To investigate doctors' attitudes to disclosing mental illness and the obstacles and enablers to seeking support.

Methods: An anonymous, UK-wide online survey of doctors with and without a history of mental illness. The main outcome measure was likelihood of workplace disclosure of mental illness.

Results: In total, 1954 doctors responded and 60% had experienced mental illness. There was a discrepancy between how doctors think they might behave and how they actually behaved when experiencing mental illness. Younger doctors were least likely to disclose, as were trainees. There were multiple obstacles which varied across age and training grade.

Conclusions: For all doctors, regardless of role, this study found that what they think they would do is different to what they actually do when they become unwell. Trainees, staff and associate speciality doctors and locums appeared most vulnerable, being reluctant to disclose mental ill health. Doctors continued to have concerns about disclosure and a lack of care pathways was evident. Concerns about being labelled, confidentiality and not understanding the support structures available were identified as key obstacles to disclosure. Addressing obstacles and enablers is imperative to shape future interventions.

Keywords: Health behaviour; mental health; physician health; physician impairment; survey..

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Self Report*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom