Radiologists anything but immune to clinical depression

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Long exposure to low ambient light has been associated with an increased risk for clinical depression—think SAD, for seasonal affective disorder—and radiologists spend many hours working in the literal dark. Because of this and other risk factors, do rads tend to be more depressed than physicians in other medical specialties?

It’s possible but not proven, as there’s scant data in the literature looking at radiology and depression per se.

Claire Bender, MD, of the Mayo Clinic and fellow researchers found this out when they searched PubMed, Scopus and Google, as they report in the July edition of the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Despite the lack, the authors write, a small European study did find symptoms of depression and anxiety in 219 radiology residents at the eye-opening rates of 55 percent and 51 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, they continue, “another risk factor unique to radiology is MRI and its associated magnetic fields.”

Bearing this out, albeit without cause-and-effect evidence, was a small European survey that found one-quarter of MRI technologists suffering with clinical depression.

The latter results “raise the possibility of relevance to radiologists specializing in clinical MRI or MRI research, who may spend increased time” close to but unprotected against strong magnetic fields.

In any case, across the board, clinical depression “affects physicians, including radiologists,” write Bender et al.

They cite a study showing the odds that a physician will commit suicide are about 70 percent higher for male physicians than for men in the general population—and between 250 percent and 400 percent higher for female physicians than other women.

“Medical professionals, including radiologists, may be more comfortable treating a patient than being one, and psychiatric issues may be regarded as taboo for discussion, so the issue of clinical depression in the specialty and subspecialty has not received widespread attention,” the authors write.

“There is a public health benefit associated with radiologists’ seeking treatment for depression and suicidality,” Bender and colleagues conclude. “If practices and state licensing boards develop model regulations and policies that encourage radiologists to seek help, this would be of value. Education forums through continuing medical education on physician depression, suicide, and the risks and resources for help should also be developed for physicians in general and specific to radiologists as well.”

The authors point out that confidential help is available through local mental-health facilities as well as nationally through the Federation of State Physician Health Programs and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.