WILMINGTON — Like anyone, physicians can sometimes struggle with mental health challenges.
That’s why it’s important they don’t just put on a brave face and can get the help the need without fear of repercussions, said Dr. Heather Farley, chief wellness officer at ChristianaCare.
Delaware took a step toward addressing these needs when Gov. John Carney signed Senate Bill 300 on Friday at a ceremony at ChristianaCare in Wilmington. The bill updates reporting requirements for Delaware physicians, allowing them to seek treatment for anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges without undue stigma or fear of loss of medical licensure
The law amends the state code to remove mandatory reporting requirements for Delaware physicians who seek treatment for mental or physical health issues.
“It is an absolute game changer,” Dr. Farley said. “All of our physicians are human beings. Just like all of us, we sometimes struggle sometimes with anxiety, depression or any other disorders that anyone would struggle with.”
The bill will align Delaware law with national best practices from leading national experts, such as the Joint Commission on Healthcare Accreditation and the Federation of State Medical Boards, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long said.
It will differentiate between a physician who is struggling with a condition and one who is actually being impaired.
“This was an important opportunity to recognize that emotional well-being, whether anxiety or depression, should not be something that is held to strict review, if there isn’t patient threats or a safety issue,” Lt. Gov. Hall-Long said. “This bill will still keep standards in place that would certainly protect patient safety. At the end of the day, it’s a great bill.”
It comes after recent federal legislation was passed with a focus on reducing and preventing suicide, burnout and mental and behavioral health conditions among health care professionals. This legislation honored Dr. Lorna Breen, a New York City physician who died by suicide early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Matthew Burday, president of the Delaware Medical Society, said the suicide rate among physicians is at an all-time high with more than 400 a year. He said many physicians suffer from depression, anxiety, insomnia, lack of nutrition and other behavioral health needs.
“This bill is a major step forward,” Dr. Burday said. “Physicians can realize that there is help for you. You can get it if you need it. Taking care of patients is important, but we have to be well enough to do that”
Dr. Farley said the bill could help Delaware attract and retain physicians.
“This speaks volumes to the commitment that we have in this states to our health care workforce,” she said. “We’re hopeful this will actually be a draw for physicians in other states. Now it’s safe to practice in Delaware and to seek treatment for any mental or physical ailments that you’re suffering from.”