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Med Students Don't Seek Mental Health Help


According to the the September 15, 2010 issue of JAMA, Med students do not seek mental health issues. These students are in a stressful and competitive environment, have a high rate of depression and suicidal tendencies yet very few students who will one day be doctors saving lives, refuse to seek mental health help.

Medical students are surrounded with peers, medications, and medical support yet these students are less likely to receive the proper treatment for mental health mainly because of the stigma associated with depressive symptoms.

Medical student experience mental health issues at a higher rate

Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D., of the University of Michigan writes that "medical students experience depression, burnout, and mental illness at a higher rate than the general population, with mental health deteriorating over the course of medical training. Medical students have a higher risk of suicidal ideation and suicide, higher rates of burnout, and a lower quality of life than age-matched populations. Students may worry that revealing their depression will make them less competitive for residency training positions or compromise their education, and physicians may be reluctant to disclose their diagnosis on licensure and medical staff applications.

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Schwenk chose 769 medical students at University of Michigan between September and November 2009, and looked into the levels of self-reported suicidal thoughts and depression. They then looked at what students thought others think of them when they make these mental ailments known. Depression existed in 14.3% of medical students in 2009 on the Michigan campus.

The authors wrote, "Students with higher depression scores felt more strongly than did those with no to minimal depression that telling a counselor would be risky and that asking for help would mean the student's coping skills were inadequate. Those with moderate to severe depression scores also agreed more strongly that, if depressed, others would find them unable to handle medical school responsibilities (83.1 vs. 55.1%). Medical students with moderate to severe depression scores more frequently reported feeling that, if depressed, fellow medical students would respect their opinions less than did those with no to minimal depression."

The authors ended their report by writing; "These results suggest that new approaches may be needed to reduce the stigma of depression and to enhance its prevention, detection, and treatment. The characteristics of medical education emphasizing professional competence and outstanding performance might be explored as reinforcing, rather than potentially sabotaging, factors in the creation of a culture that promotes professional mental health. The effective care of mental illness, the maintenance of mental health and effective emotional function, and the care of professional colleagues with mental illness could be taught as part of the ethical and professional responsibilities of the outstanding physician and become a critical component of the teaching, role modeling, and professional guidance that medical students receive as part of their curriculum in professionalism."

The study suggested that stigma is just one of the reasons that med students don't seek mental health treatment.