What Peers Can Do to Defeat the Stigma of Seeking Help

Posted on September 22, 2022 by Diane W. Shannon, MD, MPH, PCC

Updated September 22, 2022

The stigma of seeking help prevents many physicians from seeking and receiving the help they need to deal with the mental health consequences of overwork, burnout and mental health stressors.

insight_peersdefeatstigmaTrained to be superheroes who don’t prioritize their own physical and emotional needs, they may feel it is simply unacceptable to ask for what they need—especially when they need emotional and mental health support. The responsibility to destigmatize seeking and receiving help lies with organizations, colleagues and  physicians themselves.

What can peers and colleagues do?

Check in. If a colleague seems more withdrawn than usual, or more distracted or harried, asking the simple question “How are you doing? Would you like to grab a coffee and talk?”—and then listening carefully to what they say can make the difference between hope and hopelessness.

Suggest sources of help. If it’s clear your colleague needs support beyond what you can give, suggest they talk with a counselor or peer coach, or see their primary care physician. If it appears they are in serious trouble, share the information for one of the hotlines that offer emergency support, like the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, or help them in accessing support resources provided by their organization.

Model self-care. If you, as a colleague, show you are willing to be open about your problems and your needs, and seek the help you need, other physicians are more likely to talk about their own issues and access help. Your willingness normalizes the process and makes seeking help more accessible to others.

For more on what individuals, colleagues and leaders can do to beat the stigma, read Physicians and Their Experience with the Stigma for Seeking Help, here.


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