"I would never want to have a mental health diagnosis on my record": A survey of female physicians on mental health diagnosis, treatment, and reporting

Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2016 Nov-Dec;43:51-57. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2016.09.004. Epub 2016 Sep 15.


Introduction: Physicians have high rates of suicide and depression. Most state medical boards require disclosure of mental health problems on physician licensing applications, which has been theorized to increase stigma about mental health and prevent help-seeking among physicians.

Methods: We surveyed a convenience sample of female physician-parents on a closed Facebook group. The anonymous 24-question survey asked about mental health history and treatment, perceptions of stigma, opinions about state licensing questions on mental health, and personal experiences with reporting.

Results: 2106 women responded, representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Most respondents were aged 30-59. Almost 50% of women believed that they had met the criteria for mental illness but had not sought treatment. Key reasons for avoiding care included a belief they could manage independently, limited time, fear of reporting to a medical licensing board, and the belief that diagnosis was embarrassing or shameful. Only 6% of physicians with formal diagnosis or treatment of mental illness had disclosed to their state.

Conclusions: Women physicians report substantial and persistent fear regarding stigma which inhibits both treatment and disclosure. Licensing questions, particularly those asking about a diagnosis or treatment rather than functional impairment may contribute to treatment reluctance.

Keywords: Medical licensing; Mental health; Physicians; Psychiatric treatment; Stigma; Women.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Licensure, Medical / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Licensure, Medical / statistics & numerical data*
  • Mental Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders* / psychology
  • Mental Disorders* / therapy
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians, Women / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Physicians, Women / psychology
  • Physicians, Women / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Stigma*
  • United States / epidemiology