As we approach Mental Health Awareness Month, it seems an appropriate time to introduce this month's question, which looks at mental health stigmas amongst medical professionals.
What is mental health stigma? And more importantly, how much does it prevent healthcare professionals from seeking treatment for mental health issues? To answer this question, we asked 9,476 professionals working in the medical sector in Europe, USA, and Canada from M3 Global Research panel what they think.
Stigma is a tricky word. This is because it can mean different things in different contexts, there are different types of stigmas, and it includes a variety of complex conceptual frameworks across different disciplines.
However, the broader definition of stigma according to Cambridge dictionary is “a strong feeling of disapproval that most people in a society have about something, especially when this is unfair”. Common synonyms for stigma are shame, disgrace, and blemish, which suggest that the word can have a triggering effect on people. Thus, making it even more important to first set the scene for the meaning of stigma.
Mental health stigma within the healthcare sector
In this case, we are referring to stigma surrounding mental health issues . According to American Psychiatric Association, there are three types of stigmas – all which are barriers that prevent people from seeking professional help for mental health disorders or mental illness.
- Public stigma: discriminatory attitudes that others have about mental illness.
- Self–stigma: negative attitudes, including internalized shame, that people with mental illness have about their own condition
- Institutional stigma: involving policies of governments and private organizations that intentionally or unintentionally limit opportunities for people with mental illness.
In many cases, people tend to avoid or delay seeking treatment due to concerns about being treated differently or fears of losing their jobs and livelihood, which can make the mental health condition worse. The longer an illness persists, the more difficult it can be to treat and recover from.
According to a survey done by The British Medical Journal in 2021, nearly two-thirds of doctors experience some kind of mental disorder such as anxiety or depression. A survey made in 2021 with 1,048 academic physicians showed that less than 50% were likely to seek treatment for a mental health concern. Stigmatization around mental health in the healthcare sector tends to be more robust due to the medical culture, causing many to “fear that if we disclose illness to our colleagues and seek help, they will judge us as weak and less capable of doing our work.” This has inward-facing impacts on healthcare professionals’ own willingness to seek help or disclose a mental health problem, which can result in an over-reliance on self-treatment, low peer support, and increased risk of suicide.
M3 Pulse results; global insights from 9,476 healthcare providers
M3 Global Research asked 9,476 professionals working in the medical sector in Europe (United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Germany), Canada, and the United States about their opinions in the monthly M3 Pulse survey
"Do you think there is a stigma attached to healthcare professionals seeking treatment for mental health issues?"
Have a look at the video below to see M3 Pulse results from May 2020; global insights from 9,476 healthcare providers.
According to our M3 Global Research panel members, at least 80% of all healthcare professionals agree that stigma has an impact on seeking mental health treatment within the healthcare community.
- In Europe 80% agree
- In USA 88% agree
- In Canada 89% agree
It is clear that more understanding, empathy and a change of perspective around mental illness is required to eliminate mental health stigma, thus increasing the likelihood that healthcare professionals seek out professional mental health care, as soon as possible.
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Mental health has been hidden behind a curtain of stigma and discrimination for too long. It is time to bring it out into
the open. The magnitude, suffering and burden in terms of disability and costs for individuals, families and societies
are staggering. In the last few years, the world has become more aware of this enormous burden and the potential
for mental health gains. We can make a difference using existing knowledge ready to be applied.
We need to enhance our investment in mental health substantially and we need to do it now
There is undoubtedly a big frequency of mental health problems among health care professionals and the nature of the direction of actions for health on others favors lack of recognition and sadly could put professionals in an unfair situation of doubtful accountability. The same as with any other person, mental health problems should be discussed as health problems with causes, consequences, and different degrees of affection. A practical and non-judgemental mindset is necessary to face a reality that needs scientific actions and improvement of the environment that promotes mental health disorders.