Mental Health Treatment Deficit Among Physicians

stressed doctor
stressed doctor
Due to physician licensing, physicians may not be seeking treatment for mental health issues.

Physicians may be avoiding seeking treatment for mental health issues due to physician licensing (initial and renewal) requirements going beyond government recommendations in asking questions of past diagnosis and treatments for mental health problems. The findings come from a new analysis published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

The researchers coded initial and renewal medical licensure application questions (MLAQs) from 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data from 5829 nationally representative physicians who completed a survey (between August 2014 and October 2014) were also collected and analyzed. Applications were considered “consistent” if they inquired only about current (≤12 months) impairment from a medical or mental health condition or did not ask about mental health conditions. 

They found that only one-third of initial or renewal licensing documents were consistent with the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, and Federation of State Medical Board polices and recommendations, or in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. These MLAQs only focused on current medical or mental health conditions that may impair a physician’s ability.

Most state MLAQs varied and asked questions about not just current conditions, but past diagnoses or treatments for mental health problems. The survey revealed that almost 40% of physicians would be reluctant to seek formal medical care for treatment of a mental health condition due to perceived repercussions to their medical licensure.

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The authors noted how previous studies have shown that 6% of the ≥800,000 US physicians have experienced suicidal thoughts in the past 12 months. The survey results indicating that 40% of those would not seek care implies that licensure concerns may be a factor in 20,000 physicians “not receiving the professional help they need for mental health concerns,” they write.

They concluded by stating that changing the licensing application question to inquire about current functional impairment would be a “simple but potentially meaningful step” to reducing barriers to physicians seeking help. 


Dyrbye LN, West CP, Sinsky CA, Goeders LE, Satele DV, Shanafelt TD. Medical licensure questions and physician reluctance to seek care for mental health conditions. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017;92(10):1486-1493. 

This article originally appeared on MPR