Psychiatrists who treat themselves

A Michigan-based psychiatrist, Richard Balon, has raised concerns about how many of his colleagues are treating themselves for depression.

Compared with the average person, depression is particularly prevalent among doctors and especially among psychiatrists. When Richard Balon at Wayne State University surveyed 567 psychiatrists listed by the Michigan Psychiatric Society, he found that 15.7 per cent had already treated themselves for depression, 43 per cent said they would consider it in future for mild depression and 7 per cent would do so for severe depression or feeling suicidal. There was a tendency for these figures to be higher among biologically oriented psychiatrists, as opposed to their psychodynamically or eclectically oriented colleagues.

Balon’s findings are consistent with surveys of doctors conducted in Finland and Norway, which found the majority treated themselves for mental disorders.

In the current survey, the most common reasons the psychiatrists gave for treating themselves were to keep a clean health insurance record, followed by concerns about the stigma associated with mental illness. This latter finding echoes previous observations about the pervasive stigma associated with mental illness in the medical profession.

Given that some states in America ask specific questions about psychiatrists mental health when they apply for a licence to practise, Bolan concluded: “It is clearly time to reassess the issue of impairment due to mental illness among physicians, the ever-increasing lack of confidentiality, the stigma and self-treatment within our own profession, psychiatry.”
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Balon, R. (2007). Psychiatrist attitudes toward self-treatment of their own depression. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 76, 306-310.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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