Medical Students Are Facing Serious Mental Health Issues
There appears to be a lack of support for medical students with mental health problems.
An online survey of 1,122 medical students was carried out recently by the Student BMJ. Of these, 30% had experienced or received treatment for a mental health condition. Nearly 15% had considered committing suicide while at medical school.
Among these respondents, 80% thought the level of support available to them was either poor or only moderately adequate.
One student said, “As a postgraduate student studying undergraduate medicine, I worry for my younger colleagues. I know many of them suffer with depression, self-esteem issues, and various other problems, and I am stunned by the amount who take prescription medication during exam time.”
A second respondent reported, “The stigma with mental health issues especially comes into focus when exposed to consultants and tutors who refer to it as a weakness.” This respondent had also encountered several consultants who believed that depression “isn’t a real illness,” so the responded asked, “is it any wonder that students struggle to come forward?”
Matthew Billingsley, editor of the Student BMJ, believes the reasons for these high rates of mental health problems in medical students are complex. “Students often have a relentless timetable of exams as well as having to balance the emotional strain of seeing sick patients and uphold high professional standards,” he writes. “The demands of the course can cause an over competitive environment that can have a detrimental effect on the health of students.”
Twishaa Sheth, chair of the British Medical Association’s student’s welfare committee, adds, “The number of students reporting mental illness or considering suicide is shocking. What is more concerning is the lack of independent support available for students.”
The results are in line with previous research carried out by Dr. Deborah Cohen of Cardiff University, UK, in which 15% of 557 respondents from two large UK medical schools had substantial levels of depression. In this study, 52% reported substantial levels of anxiety.