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Stigma prevents GPs reporting mental illness

By Nigel Praities

Stigma over mental illness in the medical profession is high and prevents doctors from seeking professional help, say UK researchers.

Their survey of 3,500 GPs and hospital doctors in Birmingham found three quarters would rather discuss mental health problems with family or friends than seek formal or informal advice.

Medical professionals have higher rates of mental illness and suicide than the general population, but only 13% would disclose their mental illness to a professional or government institution and only 7% to their colleagues.

The research – published in Clinical Medicine today – found reasons for not disclosing mental illness were career implications, professional integrity and the perceived stigma of mental health problems.

The researchers - from Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust and Coventry University - said medicine has encouraged an ‘image of invincibility' and the options for doctors who needed help were limited.

Study author Dr Alfred White, consultant psychiatrist at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust, said their study showed an ‘apparent lack of confidence' in the current system in protecting doctors' confidentiality.

‘Doctors who are reluctant to seek professional advice for mental health issues may be putting themselves, and possibly also their patients, at risk and we are concerned that there are a lack of options for doctors who feel they are mentally unwell.

‘Greater emphasis is needed to educate doctors on mental health and to improve and extend the options open to them for accessing mental health support,' he said.

Clinical Medicine 2009; 9; 1-6

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