British Doctors Fear “Mental Illness” Label

A survey of British medical doctors, according to an Associated Press article, suggests that doctors fear the stigma of mental illness labeling.

Only one in five doctors would seek advice from colleagues or other health professionals if they developed a mental illness, a new survey has revealed.

Three-quarters (73%) said they were most likely to speak to family or friends while only 13% would speak to professional or governmental organizations and just 7% would talk to colleagues.

A further 7% said they would tell nobody, according to the poll by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

The study, published in the journal Clinical Medicine, found that a third (33%) of non-psychiatric doctors said worries about career implications would affect their decision to disclose their illness.

Three in 10 (30%) said they would be influenced by professional integrity and one in five (20%) said they were worried about the stigma of having a mental health problem.

Questionnaires were posted to 3,512 doctors in Birmingham and 2,462 (70%) replied – 677 consultants, 542 GPs, 441 senior house officers, 273 specialist registrars and 529 others. Six out of 10 (60%) said that, if they required inpatient treatment, they would choose either a local or distant private facility, while a further fifth (19%) said they would opt for NHS care but away from their local area. More than half (51%) said their decision was influenced by fears over confidentiality.

Doctors, it seems, can be subject to mental illness labeling themselves.

Dr Alfred White, speaking on behalf of the research team, said: “Doctors who are reluctant to seek professional advice for mental health issues may be putting themselves, and possibly also their patients, at risk.

“Doctors suffer higher levels of depression and substance misuse as well as higher rates of suicide than the general population. The apparent lack of confidence in the current system protecting doctors’ confidentiality may exacerbate these trends.”

The problem with stigma, as some mental health professionals would have it, is that it would prevent people perceived as needing help from getting the help those people are perceived as needing. This is also the rationale behind ‘mental health screening’. I don’t happen to share this view. I think that there is prejudice attached to mental health treatment, sure, but that encouraging people to seek treatment only increases the number of people facing that prejudice.

The percentage of people in mental health treatment has been going up since the dawn of the twentieth century. When the percentage of people labeled mentally ill goes up, rather than down, at substantial levels, that’s when we call the mental health system broken. Encouraging people to seek treatment is not a way to fix that broken system.

We don’t need more people in mental health treatment; we need fewer people in mental health treatment. When the system works, people recover from their mental health issues, and they leave mental health treatment. When the system doesn’t work, they don’t leave that mental health system, and the number of people labeled mentally ill continues to escalate.

Whining need not become a lifestyle. When the line between the mentally ill and the mentally well is exceedingly thin, maybe it is better not to seek treatment. Aren’t there more than enough emotional invalids in this world who just can’t deal with the ordinary ups and downs of daily life!? Children grow up to become adults, if they are lucky, even when some of those adults choose to pursue a career in medicine. Extending that childhood longer than is necessary for a large proportion of their population perhaps isn’t the best policy for any nation to pursue. I don’t see it as a good direction anyway.