Stigma Influences Psychiatrists in Disclosing Their Own Mental Illness

Stigma and confidentiality are key concerns among psychiatrists in disclosing own mental illness.

TORONTO  — Although doctors are at an increased risk of developing a mental illness and have a higher rate of suicide than the general public, a survey of psychiatrists has found that many of them would avoid telling others about their condition.

Tariq Mahmoud Hassan, MRCPsych, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Queen’s University in Hamilton, Canada, and colleagues sent out surveys to consultant psychiatrists registered in the province of Ontario. Out of the 1231 questionnaires sent out, 487 psychiatrists responded for a response rate of 40%.

The respondents were broken in three groups: those with less than five years of experience (11.3%), those with 5-10 years of experience (10.9%) and those with greater than 10 years (75.8%).

Nearly a third of respondents  —  31%  — said they had experienced mental illness. But only about 42% of the respondents said that they would be likely to disclose their condition to their family or friends. And those who said they would disclose to family or friends, said that stigma was a factor that would influence their choice.

However, there was no association between choice of when to disclose and the seriousness of the mental illness.

“As psychiatrists, we have more of an understanding of mental illness, but the stigma that still persists day in and day out” in the general community also happens in our community, Hassan told Psychiatry Advisor at the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting.

Career implications and impact on professional standing were other top factors cited by psychiatrists as reasons for nondisclosure.

Hassan, who presented the results of his research at a poster session here, said psychiatrists were most concerned with confidentiality (52.8%) in seeking inpatient care. Concerns about quality of care was a distant second at 26.7%. And nearly 71% of junior psychiatrists (less than five years of experience) said confidentiality was what they valued most in seeking care.

Despite the apparent hesitation in seeking treatment, nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said they would seek formal professional advice, while another 17% would seek informal professional advice. About 5% would self-medicate as treatment, and nearly 2% would pursue no treatment at all.

Hassan said that while some medical students are now being taught it is alright to seek help for mental illness while practicing, it needs to be done more often in order to eliminate the taboo amongst clinicians.

He added that reducing stigma in general about mental illness must begin early. “There needs to be more of an emphasis on mental health education in schools.”


Hassan TM, et al. Canadian psychiatrists’ attitude to becoming mentally ill. Poster P4-024. Presented at: APA 2015. May 16-20, 2015; Toronto, Canada.