Depressing findings on medical students

2 minute read

More than one quarter of medical students are depressed, research shows


More than one quarter of medical students are depressed and one in 10 has had suicidal thoughts, but very few seek help, research reveals.

While the rate of depression in medical students was two to five times higher than those in the general population, only one out of every six students who met the criteria for depression had sought help, the authors said.

It may be that competitiveness in medical school was a driver of this substantially higher prevalence of depression and suicidal symptoms, wrote the authors of the meta-analysis of 129,000 medical students from Australia and 46 other countries.

As well as the safety and wellbeing of the students themselves, patient safety was a crucial reason for people to seek help early, said Elise Buisson, president of the Australian Medical Students’ Association.

While alarming, these figures echoed similar findings from a 2013 beyondblue survey into the mental health of medical professionals, Ms Buisson said.

The beyondblue survey showed that one in 10 doctors had considered suicide in the last 12 months, but when it came to medical students, the figure was one in five.

“It was really quite surprising to the profession to find that medical students were under the most stress,” she said.

The stigma around mental health issues is an area that AMSA is seeking to reduce through campaigns such as their October social media campaign in which medical students and doctors describe instances of mental illness and how they overcame it.

“This is key, because what we saw in the beyondblue survey was that 30% of students felt that a doctor would perceive another doctor as less competent if they knew they had depression or anxiety, and around 30% also though they would be less likely to be hired,” Ms Buisson said.

Dealing with this stigma among medical professionals was needed to ensure that otherwise compassionate and competent people were not filtered out of the next generation of students because they feared mental illness would hold them back, she said.

The similar prevalence of depression between medical students and residents, 27% and 29% respectively, suggested that depression was an issue across all levels of training, the authors wrote.

JAMA 2016; online 6 December

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