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Don't let a mental health condition cost you your medical license

Even doctors can develop mental health issues. Depression is a common problem for people who have to face the frailty of the human body every day. Anxiety might kick in after a particularly rough time. Experts say that burnout and even suicide is a problem among the profession.

However, for a profession centered on wellness, those in power to make or break a doctor's career -- the people who control the state licensing board -- can be particularly unforgiving toward doctors with mental illnesses.

The fact that 60 percent or more of doctors who acknowledge a mental health issue are afraid to get treatment is telling. It's actually a wide-spread issue across the nation, varying only in intensity.

Some states ask really broad questions about mental health issues and can look into a doctor's license if they have ever had treatment for a mental disorder. Others take a more moderate approach and only want to know if the physician is being treated at the time the license is requested or renewed.

California is somewhere in the middle of the road. It asks the more invasive question when a doctor initially requests a license but restricts the question to whether or not the doctor has a mental impairment that affects his or her ability to practice on renewals. That could be good or bad news for a doctor seeking a California medical license, depending on where he or she is at in the process.

Doctors should be aware that mental conditions are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It's actually against the law for a medical board to yank their license solely because of the presence of a mental disorder. However, that may not keep a state board from trying.

If that happens, the best thing that a physician can do is seek help from an attorney who specializes in administrative law to fight the issue. That may include taking steps to legally protect the physician's private mental health records, including therapy notes.

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