Press Release - 7/29/2021
A Statement from Shireen Sakizadeh McConnell, Founder, Executive Director, MN Mental Health Advocates
Today the committee charged with recommending changes to the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice voted to maintain harmful language that deters physicians from seeking help for mental health conditions.
Minnesota is one of only 14 states in the US who choose to maintain this harmful language in physician licensure renewal questionnaires. A physician suffering from mental illness is less likely to honestly answer these questions for fear of losing their license to practice.
We lose 400 physicians to suicide in the US annually. That means that each year, approximately one million Americans lose their doctor to suicide. It comes as no surprise that the pandemic has only increased this rate. In Minnesota, in recent months alone, we have lost several physicians to mental illness. They were mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, siblings. They were human beings. They were ours. They deserved better. They deserved more than toxic workplace and system cultures. They deserved better than repetitive moral injury. They deserved better than punitive actions in response to asking for mental health resources and services. We failed them.
Physicians take an oath to “do no harm” - a promise to protect their patients and communities; but who protects the physicians? Repeatedly, studies show that healthcare workers thrive in environments that use a preventative and supportive culture regarding employee mental health. Healthcare workers are more likely to seek help for mental health issues via unaffiliated third party organizations that provide anonymity from employers.
The Minnesota Board of Physician Practice would better serve the public by eliminating this harmful language from their licensure process. They would better serve the public by promoting meaningful change to health systems and the culture of healthcare. They would better serve the public by offering safe and effective ways to access mental health services via unaffiliated third party organizations that provide anonymity to their clients.
Mental illness is not a character flaw or evidence of weakness. Healthcare workers care for people during their most vulnerable moments and often the most difficult days of their lives. Healthcare workers experience vicarious trauma, secondary stress, and moral injury at rates on par with soldiers who have experienced war. We set them up for failure by discouraging them from accessing resources to arm themselves with. Then we punish them for being human beings by suspending or terminating their licenses - effectively, robbing healthcare workers of their identity and purpose.
As a society who relies on healthcare workers to be well enough to care for us, we must demand that licensing boards and legislators protect our healthcare heroes.
If you are a healthcare professional, I urge you to follow the organizations listed below and watch for our upcoming events surrounding physician suicide prevention and mental health initiatives for healthcare professionals.