Why the Stigma Surrounding Doctors with Depression Needs to Change - it's ok to get help if you need it

Depression is increasing in the US.

As a Doctor, you may well have noticed a rise in the number of mental health cases.

Luckily, the stigma surrounding mental health for the general public is starting to disappear.

Sadly, it's not the same for Physicians, or anyone involved in patient care.

Our mental health is important too.

Yet, because of the role we play in society, we have placed unrealistic expectations upon ourselves.

We think we should be invincible and immune to the things that we treat our patients.

Did you know that 16%-18% of nurses and physicians meet the criteria to be diagnosed with PTSD?

26% of medical professionals drank alcohol to deal with burnout in 2021.

94% of female physicians with a diagnosis don't disclose it.

And 53% of Doctors with depression said it affected their work in 2021.

These numbers are too high!

Something needs to change.

If it doesn't, there is likely to be a shortage of physicians by 2032.

We need to help reduce the stigma around our mental health issues by talking about it and asking for help.

Physician burnout is a real crisis.

But I wonder, how many cases of burnout could be prevented if physicians aren't afraid to reach out for help sooner? 

Firstly, if you are experiencing depression or emotional exhaustion, understand that you are not alone.

A lot of Doctors and medical students face similar issues.

Secondly, please realize that you should be reaching out and asking for help.

Staying quiet and trying to cope on your own is not the best way to manage.

Over time, your mental health could get worse and increase your chances of burnout. It will impact your work and increase the chances of making a significant error or judgment. 

In my previous post, I spoke about the causes and symptoms of physician burnout.

In this post, I want to address the issue of not asking for help and keeping our mental health struggles secret.

Statistics show that female Doctors, in particular, worry about having a diagnosis on their records as they are worried about the stigma.

Ladies, please listen.

As a female physician, who started my practice as a single parent to 3 toddlers, I know how tough it is.

Being a professional, working 50+ hours per week, and being a parent is demanding.

It is ok, not to feel ok 100% of the time. 

We all have our moments or even days where we feel down and exhausted.

And we all have mum guilt.

But, if you feel like this for most of each day or week, you need to rethink your priorities and focus on obtaining a better work-life balance.

If you think you may be suffering from depression or are at risk of physician burnout, the first step is to get help.

I know that is difficult because of the stigma around mental health and because we are physicians.

But if we are going to change everybody else's attitude, we need to change ours first.

The working environment, the administrative duties, and the demand of being a physician - all add to mental health issues.

We need to speak out about how it affects us and the urgent changes necessary in the healthcare system to help reduce depression, stress, and burnout. 

What steps can you take when asking for help?

First, talk to those closest to you. Someone you trust.

Your spouse, your family, a good friend.

This way, you have someone to support you as you go through the process.

Second, tell your employer that you need some time off. You may need to explain what you are going through. If you would like some advice on this, please do drop me an email.

If you run your own practice, please do take some time out. I know it is not easy, but it is necessary for the long term.

Use your time off to have a complete break from your work. Relax, enjoy your family and loved ones, treat yourself, and indulge in some self-care.

Professional help:

Depending on your symptoms and how you are feeling, if you need it, please do seek professional help.


There are Physician Health Programs (PHPs) in nearly every state that provide lifesaving, confidential support.  These programs allow physicians who are compliant with treatment to avoid disclosing depression or other stable illness that do not interfere with  ability to practice to licensing authorities.

Moving forward with a sustainable work-life balance

There would be little point in taking time off work and then returning to your usual schedule.

Your anxiety will return, and it will only be a matter of time before you experience physician burnout.

When you feel ready, it is time to put a plan together.

Set yourself some boundaries. 

How many hours do you want to work each week?

When do you want to be free? For example, you may want to be available every day after school to pick up your children.

Many physicians opt to only work during school hours so that they can be present for their families.

At this point, do not worry about income. 

As a doctor or physician, there are numerous ways to supplement your income and reduce your workload.

What you want to do right now is set a target timetable and work plan to improve your mental health and reduce your chances of burnout.

Write down your ideal work hours and times, share it with your spouse or trusted partner, and get their support in helping you reach those times as a goal and stick to it. 

How to increase your income and reduce your hours?

As a qualified physician, you have several options to supplement your income.

The options below allow you to work from home, mostly with hours to suit you. A side business would allow you to earn passive income, which means you can reduce your hours even further.

  • Telemedicine
  • Medical Surveys
  • Med-Legal/Expert Witness
  • Review Insurance Claims
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Set up a side business, such as real estate, YouTube channel

(these will be detailed in a separate blog post).

If you would like further information about any of those options, please do get in touch.

I personally chose to perform IMEs, Chart reviews and Peer reviews, which allowed me to create the lifestyle that I wanted.

If you would like to learn more about this and how you can become a qualified medical examiner, please see my courses page or drop me an email for more information.