Why The Mental Health of Psychologists is a Taboo Subject

The mental health of psychologists is a taboo subject. In fact, a large part of society assumes that they can't have mental health problems or that, if they do, they couldn't possibly be good at their job.
Why The Mental Health of Psychologists is a Taboo Subject

Last update: 26 May, 2022

The mental health of psychologists tends to be a taboo subject. However, several studies show that the prevalence of mental health issues in this group is virtually the same as in other population samples, with the addition of greater internalized stigma.

As a matter of fact, psychologists not only have to hide their problems, but they must also learn to camouflage them with academic and professional masking. It’s not enough for them to be emotionally stable, they must also demonstrate that stability, in order to treat others. At least, that’s what most of us believe.

That said, there’s no scientific evidence to show that psychologists with “normative or acceptable” mental health are any better placed to offer advice. Obviously, like any other professional, psychologists can suffer from certain psychological disorders and continue to carry out their work.

Psychology is a science that works with objective tools. They greatly help the psychologist not to “collapse”. These same tools are the ones that other professionals use to get out of personal and emotional loops when they need to.

sad psychologist
A psychologist, like any person, may feel overwhelmed by circumstances at a given time.

The mental health of psychologists

Disagreement with the system, unemployment, and lack of resources determines that the work of a psychologist isn’t immune to precariousness. Furthermore, the various associations of psychologists often don’t take care of their professionals.

In addition, people who want to study psychology should be warned that a large part of them will end up doing jobs that aren’t even related to psychology.

As well as the determining work factor, psychologists face the same stigmas as other people regarding their mental health. Added to this is a series of myths regarding their roles as professionals.

However, many psychologists go through life with the feeling that they have to demonstrate “untainted” behavior, and that they’re perfectly balanced on a mental level. In effect, they think that they must lead by example.

This often creates a certain artificiality in their behavior and a lack of naturalness they learned at university. It prevents making mental health awareness engaging, inclusive, and useful. Above all, it affects their own mental health, due to the kind of pressures they should never have to assume.

An amazing survey

How common are mental health difficulties among psychologists? Paradoxically, this is a hidden question, perhaps because the disclosure and discussion of these experiences remain taboo within the field.

A study documented high rates of mental health problems (both diagnosed and undiagnosed) among professors, graduate students, and others.

Nearly 1,700 psychology faculty members and trainees completed an online survey that asked about their mental health experiences. This is the largest study to date concerning rates of mental illness in graduate programs that train clinical psychologists.

It should be mentioned that psychology students and professionals have long been warned that if they talk openly about their own mental health experiences, they risk receiving negative judgments both from co-workers and supervisors. It can damage their careers.

However, this culture of silence runs counter to what psychologists know to be true about fighting stigma. Indeed, they know that talking openly about mental health can help reduce it and encourage others to seek help.

Results

More than 80 percent of all the respondents reported having experienced mental health problems at some point. While 48 percent confirmed they’d suffered a diagnosed mental illness. These rates are similar to rates of mental illness in the general population.

The findings show that, far from being immune to the conditions they treat in others, psychologists deal with mental health difficulties or illnesses as much as their patients do.

Indeed, personal experiences of mental health problems among clinical psychologists are quite common. For this reason, stigma, concerns about the negative consequences of disclosure, and shame as barriers to disclosure and help-seeking warrant further consideration.

More studies

There’s a saying that research in psychology is really a “search for oneself”. This means that some people may enter the profession to understand themselves and deal with their own problems. To a certain extent, this may be true. However, it’s not proportional and doesn’t suggest that their openness to others is reduced in any way.

Concerns about negative consequences for themselves, especially career-related, prevent some psychologists from seeking help. This was evidenced in a study that investigated the prevalence of mental health problems among clinical psychologists. It involved perceived and self-external stigma and stigma-related concerns related to disclosure and help-seeking.

“It’s an understandable concern, but keeping a mental illness a secret has some clear downsides,” says Linda Forrest, a psychologist at the University of Oregon.

Linda studies how teachers respond to learners who are struggling to develop professional skills. She believes that graduate students in clinical or counseling programs could benefit from the positive effects of sharing any mental health problems with their supervisors.

Mental illness can affect a psychologist’s performance when working with clients. Nevertheless, identifying those performance issues often requires an outside observer.

“Research shows that our ability to accurately assess ourselves is very limited,” says Forrest. However, faculty could teach students to take care of their own mental health. It would mean that the therapist would know how to anticipate possible critical situations, such as a patient with a similar life history.

Students who don’t disclose their own mental health issues miss out on valuable supervision and training by faculty. Furthermore, being silent also contains other dangers. “Trying to mask the feelings of anxiety isn’t particularly fun,” says Foster.

Psychologist and patient, depicting the mental health of psychologists.
Identifying their own problems and difficulties helps the psychologist to improve their job performance.

What about the stigma?

Two-thirds of the participants had experienced mental health problems. Furthermore, on average, perceived mental health stigma was higher than outside the profession.

Concerns about negative consequences for self and career prevented some psychologists from coming forward and seeking help. In fact, as we mentioned earlier, stigma, concerns about the negative consequences of disclosure, and shame as barriers to disclosure and help-seeking certainly warrant further consideration.

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