Common Mental Illnesses that Afflict Physicians

Despite the fact that most people see doctors as all-knowing and nearly perfect when it comes to physical and mental health, many physicians struggle with the same problems that afflict their patients. While doctors are willing to open up and admit some of their physical failings and chronic health conditions, they are far more reticent with their mental health concerns. This is often due to the sense that their patients will no longer look up to them if they admit that they have a mental health condition. This can also be due to a fear of recrimination if they admit to their state boards that they have a mental health diagnosis. Numerous state boards ask potential physicians whether they have been diagnosed with mental health concerns. If they answer positively, the board is highly likely to keep them under tight surveillance. While these mental illnesses in physicians may not come to light very often, here are the top three concerns that afflict this group of professionals.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety affects around 40 million Americans every year and is seen often among physicians and their associates because of high patient workloads and stressful work conditions especially in fast-paced or stressful work areas, such as emergency rooms and intensive care units. While mild anxiety can actually be a good thing as it sharpens the senses, moderate to severe anxiety can cramp one’s work style by significantly decreasing concentration. Anxiety disorders encompass a variety of problems, such as phobias and panic attacks. However, generalized anxiety disorder is seen most frequently. Symptoms include a sense of nervousness and fear, difficulty breathing, increased heart rate and sweatiness. Eventually, this can affect one’s sleep.

Depression

Depression affects around 16 million Americans every year. Symptoms include sleeping and eating changes. However, the most concerning symptoms are the loss of energy and lack of interest in typical activities that afflicts these individuals. In physicians, depression can be very concerning because it can lead to increased errors as the individual struggles to concentrate and remember facts. In addition, depressed physicians have been shown to have sub-optimal relationships with their patients.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

While most people think that PTSD only affects those who have been in active combat, it can actually affect anyone who has gone through a very traumatic episode. A physical assault, such as with domestic violence or a mugging, a major accident or a natural disaster can all trigger PTSD. Symptoms include feeling tense, scared or guilty as well as having nightmares, insomnia and flashbacks.

Studies have been done among physicians in hospital work environments to determine whether they were suffering from mental illness since graduation from medical school. Nearly half of all physicians were listed positive for work-related fatigue, which can eventually lead to burnout. Depression and anxiety each afflicted nearly a quarter of individuals interviewed while PTSD afflicted 15 percent. Physicians must be sure to be honest with themselves and with their own practitioners so that they can get the help that they need. Some health entities, such as the NCPHP and NC Physicians Health Program Website, offer programs to help get physicians appropriate wellness care for their whole bodies. Programs are also typically offered to other health care workers, such as residents, anesthesiologists and veterinarians.

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