Doctors Respond: Discussing Mental Health Issues with Patients

Mental health awareness

May is Mental Health Month, which is dedicated to “spreading the word that mental health is something everyone should care about.” Mental health issues are far more prevalent than most people realize – 1 in 5 adults have a mental health condition.

That’s over 40 million Americans; more than the populations of New York and Florida combined.

In many places there are shortages of mental health specialists – indeed, if you are a patient in Chicago, IL, you may wait more than a year to see a specialist after your primary care doctor has already identified a need. In this context, discussing mental health often falls on the shoulders of other physicians.

According to recent SERMO polling, however, 1 in 4 (27%) doctors don’t feel comfortable discussing mental health with all of their adult patients. Here is some of the commentary that accompanied the poll: 

“Some days as a doctor, I feel that I am being turned into a psychologist. I would rather deal with physical and biological ailments, which is what I was trained for!” Pediatrics 

“Many of my patients are annoyed that some rules seems to require them to answer questions about depression every single time they come in – even when it is thrice weekly for a dressing change.” – Family Medicine

On the flip side, nearly three quarters of the doctors are comfortable discussing mental health – and some specialties regularly face such conversations: 

I am comfortable with this topic and all of my cancer patients are suitable. Many of these patients may require psych referral.” – Hematology Oncology

Are you a physician? Login or join SERMO to join important medical conversations today.

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