Mentally Ill in a High-Stakes Job

But it’s not just in aviation where mental-health treatment is a concern.

Consider also doctors, dentists, lawyers. They have trained for years, passed tough exams, been licensed and deemed fit by a stringent set of regulations; they’re needed at their best. Yet many of these high-responsibility, high-risk career fields have high rates of suicide. That means many of these highly trained workers could be showing up at work in a compromised condition.

Seeking help for depression, anxiety, or another mental condition can be difficult for anyone. People may be embarrassed to discuss their symptoms, they might not know what kind of healthcare provider to see, or they might hope the problem will go away on its own. But in some fields, visiting a therapist for a diagnosis or starting medications can endanger the licensing and career someone has often worked a decade or more to achieve…

According to the National Occupational Mortality Surveillance Report from the CDC, which studied nearly 500 different professions, physicians have one of the highest rates of suicide in the U.S., coming in at 16th. Why, in a field designed to heal, are so many people suffering? …

In a follow-up survey to further examine the issue, to which 35 boards responded, 13 stated that any report of mental illness is sufficient for imposing consequences, such as revocation or restriction of license, probation, or requiring completion of a treatment regimen…

On a web forum for medical students, one member who chose the name “Broken Doctor” for a screen name offered his or her experience:

Your fears about professional stigma and discrimination from medical licensing boards are well-founded.

I have been treated for depression for many years. When my state medical board found out (I reported it myself after taking a brief medical leave of absence), they chose to publicly discipline me simply for getting sick. In my case, there have never been any allegations of misconduct, incompetence, or practicing while impaired. Overall, this has been the most humiliating experience of my life. The professional damage is staggering and irreversible. […] So, my advice to you would be to NEVER EVER EVER admit to your licensing board anything that could even remotely be considered mental illness. Until the professional stigma of mental illness is squarely addressed by organized medicine, your honesty will only get you in trouble.

In 2011, the Federation of State Medical Boards, a non-profit group which represents 70 U.S. medical and osteopathic boards, released an extensive Policy on Physician Impairment covering physical and mental impairment, as well as substance abuse. It clarifies definitions, and serves to establish best practices in helping physicians seek treatment through the Physician’s Health Program structure, established in the 1970s to assist addicted doctors, now expanded to cover psychiatric care for all healthcare professionals, including dentists and pharmacists…

Well, this article is very disappointing, considering it doesn’t include any of the issues discussed here:

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