The antidote to mental health stigma amongst doctors: humanity

Mental health stigma and doctors

I grew up watching Superman. Impressive man…leaping tall buildings and all that. Just the kinda thing a young kid wants to do. Fast forward. During my psychiatry residency, I was having periods of clinical depression. It was weird to awaken in the morning with endless loops of suicidal ideation in my head and then that afternoon, hospitalize patients with the very same symptoms. But, I told no one.

picture of woman hiding behind broken fence and peering out
Photo by Rene Asmussen on

Stigma about professional consequences

Too many physicians living with psychiatric disorders shun treatment. They pay a terribly high price in morbidity and mortality. The rate of physician suicide is way high. We can understand how doctors avoid care given all the worries about professional consequences. Stigma against doctors is quite prevalent. Examples of professional consequences include collegial disapproval and concerns about the potential impact on medical licensure. These are the reasons that doctors eschew treatment, and these fears are real. Engaging in care and public disclosure are fraught with stigma. This stigma arises in a status quo of secrecy and silence deeply ingrained in the medical community.

Our culture lauds physicians who are uber-competent and stoic. However, we expect practitioners to soldier on despite the unacceptably heavy burden they carry. Similarly, we like our doctors to stop speeding bullets. But the intense pressures to perform can have the unintended effect of battering the psyche. So, it can feel like kryptonite is all around us, every day. Because of this, many suffer in silence. “Physician, heal thyself” becomes advice unattainable. So, care givers have difficulty training our healing focus on ourselves and on our colleagues in need.

My antidote: humanity

Currently, doctors can disrupt this stasis of demoralizing shame and challenge the destructive, avoidant status quo. After many years of trying hard to be Superman, I have finally arrived at a place of acceptance and well being. I found a way to navigate a pathway from being a care giver to becoming a care receiver. I did this by recognizing and integrating a healthier and humane inner story line.

My humanity became the essential vehicle for my recovery. So, mine is a story of success and provides a template for other doctors. It’s also a template for anyone who remains locked in the grips of untreated psychiatric disorders. I created a pathway to wellness and leaping tall buildings and to stopping speeding bullets What exactly the opposite of what I needed to do.

Do you have a Superman story? Let me know

If you are a doctor and would be interested in knowing what i would say to you, please click here

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