Skip to main content
search

Breaking the Stigma: Mental Health in Women Physicians

by Devki Patel, Rosy Thachil, MD, FACC, for the AMWA Gender Equity Task Force  

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time dedicated to breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health and fostering open conversations about well-being. While mental health affects individuals from all walks of life, certain groups, particularly women physicians, face unique challenges in maintaining their mental health. Let’s consider the intersection of mental health and gender equity to consider the heightened pressures women in medicine face and to stress the importance of support and self-care.

While the medical profession is renowned for its dedication to caring for others, the mental health of those delivering care usually takes a backseat. Women physicians often face a double standard and double shift when it comes to expectations. On one hand, they strive to excel in their careers, breaking barriers and challenging stereotypes. On the other hand, they’re often expected to fulfill traditional gender roles, balancing a demanding career with family responsibilities. This results in women physicians often navigating a challenging set of responsibilities including caregiving, professional obligations, and societal expectations which can take a significant toll on their mental health.

In medicine, the pursuit of perfection is engrained, but for women physicians, this expectation can be particularly demanding. The pressure to excel in every aspect of their professional and personal lives can lead to burnout, anxiety, and depression. Many women feel compelled to prove themselves in what remains a male-dominated profession, further intensifying the strain on their mental well-being. Furthermore, they often encounter gender-specific challenges, including bias, discrimination, and imposter syndrome. Additionally, women physicians may encounter skepticism about their abilities, unequal pay, and limited opportunities for career advancement. These challenges not only undermine their professional confidence, but also contribute to feelings of inadequacy, perpetuating stress and impacting their mental well-being.

Despite progress in recent years, there remains a sense of stigma surrounding mental health within the medical community. Women physicians may fear consequences for seeking help or communicating their struggles, as it could be perceived as a sign of weakness or affect their career prospects. As a result, women physicians may suffer in silence, often hesitating to acknowledge their struggles or reach out for support.

Solutions to Improve Mental Wellness of Women Physicians

Addressing mental health challenges among women physicians requires a multifaceted approach.

  • Building a strong support network is essential for promoting mental health among women physicians. Peer support groups, mentorship programs, and professional organizations provide a means for connection, validation, and encouragement. Creating spaces where women can share their experiences and seek advice fosters a sense of community and reduces feelings of isolation.
  • Establish Supportive Healthcare Settings. Medical institutions should prioritize creating work environments that promote work-life balance, offer resources for stress management, advocate for gender equity, and build a culture of open communication about mental health. Additionally, education and awareness can help destigmatize the need to seek out mental health counseling and encourage women physicians to prioritize their well-being without fear of judgment.
  • Prioritize Self-Care. While crucial, allowing time for self-care is often a difficult need to be met yet it is essential to allow for mental well-being. Self-care includes: setting boundaries, saying “no”, practicing mindfulness, engaging in hobbies, and seeking therapy, as needed, as these are all effective tools for managing stress and promoting wellness. It’s important for women physicians to recognize that taking care of themselves isn’t selfish. rather is necessary for overall health and successful longevity as physicians.

The need to focus on Mental Health Awareness is one important way to spotlight the unique challenges faced by women physicians in caring for their mental health. By acknowledging the presence of gender bias, the stigma surrounding mental illness, and harmful stereotypes, we can create a more compassionate and supportive healthcare system for women physicians and their patients. We invite you to join AMWA in advocating for a future where every woman in medicine feels valued, respected, and empowered to prioritize her mental well-being – one change, one conversation, and one act of self-care at a time.

About the Authors

Rosy Thachil, MD, FACC, co-chair of AMWA’s Gender Equity Task Force, is a quadruple board-certified cardiologist, serving as Director of the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Elmhurst Hospital Center, and Assistant Professor at Mount Sinai College of Medicine in New York. Dr. Thachil’s clinical interests include critical care cardiology/acute cardiovascular care and health disparities. In addition to addressing cardiovascular disease, she is passionate about advancing womens’ roles in medicine/leadership. She also serves on American College of Cardiology Critical Care Leadership Council and she is a candidate at Wharton’s executive MBA program (‘25), and holds certificates in physician leadership and bioethics.

 

Devki Patel, is completing her first-year of medical school at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine. Beyond her academic pursuits, she is actively engaged in addressing gender and equity issues in medicine with a strong commitment to addressing healthcare disparities. As a dedicated member of the AMWA Gender and Equity Task Force, she contributes to initiatives aimed at fostering inclusivity and promoting equality in healthcare. Combining her passion for medicine with a commitment to advocacy and compassionate care, she is shaping a future where healthcare is not only about expertise but also about fairness and accessibility for all.

Jodi Godfrey

Close Menu