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Situation critical: 1 in 4 depressed physicians admit they have considered suicide

It is widely understood that medical professionals are at increased risk for suicide relative to other professions due to the unique stressors of working in healthcare. The Medscape Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2020 found that nearly one in four physicians with depression surveyed said they had thought about ending their lives, and a little more than one percent had attempted it. About 16 percent of all physicians surveyed reported that they are depressed and more than 40 percent said they have symptoms of burnout, which overlaps with depression in many respects. Still more sobering: More than 60 percent of those who contemplated suicide indicated that they had no plans to seek help and had not sought professional care in the past.

The reasons for this reluctance to get mental health care are varied. According to the Medscape report, about half of respondents either felt their situation was not serious enough to need outside help, or thought they could handle their problems without professional help. Many also indicated they are just too busy to take care of their own mental health issues. Tellingly, more than 20 percent of those who did not seek help said they did not want to risk disclosure of their problems with burnout and/or depression to an employer, medical regulatory board or other authority.

The North Carolina Medical Board recognizes that it is essential for licensees to have the freedom to seek mental health care without fear. For this reason NCMB made changes, starting in January 2017, that eliminate the need to disclose physical or mental health issues or current treatment status to the Board. This is no longer asked as part of the annual license renewal (effective January 2017) or on the initial application for licensure (effective September 2018). Instead, NCMB includes a statement in both the license application and renewal questionnaires communicating its expectation that medical professionals address any personal physical or mental health problems. NCMB hopes that removing this potential barrier to treatment will empower more licensees who need help to pursue any needed mental health treatment without concern for their licensure.