Medical school is stressful. We’re trying to learn volumes and volumes of information while remaining hypervigilant and paranoid about our grades. We prep for exams that determine which careers we can possibly get into. I just came across a meta-analysis published in December 2016 in JAMA that tried to determine the prevalence of depression, depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation in medical students. This paper aggregated 195 studies which gave them an n=129,123 across 47 countries.
Just by pooling all of the data together, the authors came up with a prevalence of depression or depressive symptoms of 27.2%, and a median prevalence of 32.4%. The United States had a prevalence of 26.7%. Additionally, the overall prevalence of suicidal ideation was 11.1%. By report, only 15.7% of students sought help. What I found most striking about the results was that the rate did not vary by survey year. This study looked at results from 1982-2015.
These results are saddening. For some context, the overall prevalence of depression among the U.S public is around 6-7%. Therefore, there is a quite a bit of disproportion–with medical schools having an incidence 4-5x the public. Clearly, we are not taking care of our own. I will say that at my school, we were definitely informed about the variety of mental health resources available to us. However, that clearly is not enough. Should we do routine mental health screenings? Should we have dedicated time where medical students get to talk about their experiences with a licensed professional? Unfortunately, we are our own worst enemy. We know how to screen for mental health. We know the tests. We know the questions–we ask them ourselves!
Make sure to check on your colleagues! We need to fix this problem.