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What Is Causing the Mental Health Crisis Among Doctors?

Tired man being overloaded at work

Revealing the root causes of many doctors’ mental health struggles.

Oct. 25, 2023

There is a mental health crisis experienced by doctors that is adversely affecting patients, Keren Landman reports in Vox.

“Medicine has historically been a high-stress profession, and doctors have for decades faced higher depression and burnout risk than the rest of the population. But the pandemic amplified that risk: In one 2021 national survey, the percent of doctors with at least one manifestation of burnout increased by 43 percent from the pre-Covid-19 era — and these trends appear to be holding in 2023,” she writes.

At the same time, doctors are less likely to seek treatment for mental health concerns for a variety of reasons. “Many physicians say that despite their comfort with prescribing mental health treatment and care to patients, seeking mental health care for themselves remains highly stigmatized,” Landman points out.

A 2023 survey found six out of 10 doctors often had feelings of burnout, compared to four out of 10 pre-pandemic. In a separate 2023 study, nearly a quarter of doctors said they were depressed, Landman reports.

A key cause of the burnout is a professional culture that prizes efficiency and perfection. A phenomenon known as “moral injury” is also to blame. Landman describes this as “the damaging effects of witnessing, participating in, or failing to prevent things that don’t align with the values that drew people to practicing medicine.”

Landman also points to the unpaid labor of many doctors, which can add up to a full day of unpaid work per week doing tasks like charting from home.

At the same time, doctors can feel stigmatized for getting help for mental health struggles. “About 40 percent of doctors in the Physicians Foundation survey were either afraid or knew another physician who was afraid of seeking mental health care due to questions on medical licensure, credentialing and insurance applications,” she writes.

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