As explored in a previous blog, physician burnout has endured as a costly and potentially deadly issue plaguing the medical field. Studies have shown the severe mental damage occasionally spawned by a physician’s daily obligations — especially as it pertains to personal accomplishment and subconscious alignment. There are, luckily, numerous ways that physicians can combat such adverse feelings, and many of them are based in preemptive planning to stop the problem before it can snowball. 

That said, perhaps the most effective preventative measure is to address the issue at one of its deepest roots: the cluster of dangerous stigmas currently surrounding physician mental health in general. These misconceptions have put unnecessary pressure on already compromised physicians, relegating their struggles to taboo territory rather than proactively working towards a solution. 

The stigmas

The disturbing reality about physician mental health is that many issues go unreported, and are therefore left untreated; this has contributed greatly to metrics surrounding elevated mental illness symptoms within the field — most notably those linked to self-harm, as physicians, unfortunately, reflect one of the highest suicide rates compared to other professions. 

While these statistics seem clear-cut, the stigmas themselves are, at times, not as easy to notice. Some interpret physicians’ mental burdens as a “catch-22” of sorts, linking the issues brought about “high self-expectations, intense professional pressure, and prevailing culture of the medical profession” to a general reluctance to seek help. Broadly speaking, the act of seeking help manifests as yet another stressor, an act of embarrassment and weakness that seemingly undermines their credibility as a weathered, trial-tested medical professional. 

This harmful Pavlovian effect has made necessary intervention synonymous with shame, and until we break this cycle, it will perpetually invade what is otherwise a noble and timelessly relevant career path. 

The solutions

For physicians, escaping the aforementioned mental health cycle is also easier said than done, but it is possible. Like before, it is important to formulate solutions by addressing the situation at its deepest root: a general lack of awareness. Nearly all such stigmas are based on foundationless logic and/or generalizations that, in this case, have latched onto the fragile variables of modesty and self-worth. Therefore, outreach is the first step in mending the issue as a whole. We must encourage our physicians to remember several key facts about their being: 

  • Though they are exceptional professionals, they are still human, and therefore imperfect. 
  • Despite being the perceived pressures of being a medical professional, adverse emotions are to be expected and should be addressed as soon as possible. 
  • Self-help methods — from mindfulness to new forms of exercise — are great ways to curb bad emotions stemming from the workplace. 
  • At the end of the day, there is absolutely no shame in seeking help for a work-related mental or emotional challenge, and there never will be. 

Additionally, medical workplaces should foster a culture of inclusion and community, motivating physicians to look out for one another and feel comfortable being transparent about their day-to-day thoughts and feelings. In some cases, solutions will not be quickly achieved, but over time, such changes may snowball into necessary shifts in perception.