It’s been seven months since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a global pandemic. And while many are getting tired of being in quarantine, those on the front lines are dealing with a different kind of fatigue.
“There are very few physicians who won’t have taken care of people with COVID-19 or known someone who has died of COVID-19,” said Eileen Barrett, an associate professor of medicine at the University of New Mexico.
And although recent studies have shown that at least half of medical health experts are struggling with trauma and depression, a survey found that 40 percent of physicians –– who also report high rates of suicide –– are afraid to get help due to concern that it could affect their medical license.
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“Those risking their lives the front lines of this pandemic deserve our support, and that includes support for their mental health,” said Katrina Gay, National Director of Strategic Partnerships at NAMI, in a statement.
Ahead of World Mental Health Day, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and KIND are petitioning five states – Florida, Wyoming, Alabama, Oklahoma and Idaho – to reconsider asking intrusive questions related to mental health on board license applications.
“There are people who want to express their solidarity, compassion and support for healthcare workers,” said Barrett. “This is something that is tactical, tangible and achievable for people to make a difference in healthcare workers’ lives.”
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Historically, state medical license boards have required applicants to disclose any history of psychiatric difficulties or receiving treatment, through varying lines of questioning. But the American Psychiatric Association has said that having psychiatric history is not an accurate predictor of mental fitness, which makes such questions irrelevant –– and potentially a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prevents discrimination by public entities on the basis of disability, unless shown necessary.
“It’s hard enough to get to get the time off from work; it’s hard enough to access mental health care; it’s hard enough to navigate the health system; and then to worry about whether you will lose your license, that’s a legitimate fear,” said Barrett, who was one of several medical experts who worked with the New Mexico Medical Board to update their language to help destigmatize seeking mental health treatment.
“If we have bias against health professionals getting mental health care, then we have bias towards people getting mental health care,” she said.
Research shows that asking these questions has discouraged many who need it from seeking psychiatric treatment out of fear of losing