Essential workers

Nearly half of ER docs are reluctant to seek mental health treatment, survey finds

Emergency physicians report fearing workplace stigma and professional consequences if they obtain treatment for a mental health condition.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency physicians have been among the most impacted groups. Many ER doctors are providing frontline care to acutely ill patients, losing patients and in some cases peers, and grappling with PPE shortages.

While on-the-job stresses have greatly increased, nearly half of emergency medicine physicians are reluctant to seek mental health treatment, according to a recent survey from the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). The organization surveyed over 850 physicians in mid-October.

Reluctant physicians said they feared professional repercussions and stigma in their workplace. Nearly three-quarters of the physicians surveyed say they feel there is a stigma surrounding mental health treatment in their workplace. Several physicians said they were concerned about potentially having to report the treatment on medical license applications in the future.

The survey also found that:

  • Eighty-seven percent of emergency physicians say they are under more stress than they were at the beginning of the pandemic.
  • Eighty percent are concerned about contracting COVID-19.
  • 6 in 10 are stressed out over inadequate PPE.

In a statement, ACEP President Mark Rosenberg, DO, MBA, called for an overhaul of the profession’s handling of personal mental health.

“This new data adds real urgency to the need for emergency physicians, policymakers and clinical leaders to work together to change our approach to mental health. Every health care professional, especially those on the frontlines of the pandemic, should be able to address their mental health without fear of judgement or consequences,” he said.

Last year, the AOA House of Delegates approved policy urging state medical licensing boards to refrain from asking about past history of mental health or substance use diagnoses or treatment on licensure applications or renewals. The policy encourages boards to instead focus on current physical or mental disorders that could impact a physician’s ability to safely practice medicine.

Founded by a DO, the Physician Support Line, (888) 409-0141, is a national, free and confidential support line service made up of 800+ volunteer psychiatrists who joined together to provide peer support for physicians during the COVID-19 epidemic.