Reflecting on World Mental Health Day, I think the prevalence of depression among medical professionals from the medical student to resident physician to attending physician levels is an important topic to talk about.
While the rate of depression among the general population is 5.4%, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis published in JAMA in December 2016, 27.2% of medical students have experienced depression or depressive symptoms. In addition, 11.1% of medical students have experienced suicidal ideation. Even more concerning, only 15.7% of medical students who have screened positive for depression have sought psychiatric treatment. This problem of depression is not isolated to students: a reported 28.8% of resident physicians have experienced depression.
Having been a medical student for several years, anecdotally, these statistics about the prevalence of depression are not surprising to me. The pressures to perform well in school are high and the fact that our future patients’ lives are depending on our ability to learn as much as we can about the depths of the human body makes those stakes even higher. Often giving up weekend nights, time spent with family and other loved ones, and the hobbies that make us the happiest in order to study or go to the hospital for another shift can be draining.
I’m encouraged by the services that my school provides to help struggling students. Many of my classmates take advantage of the free psychiatry appointments offered by our Student Affairs office, but I’ve heard those appointments often take weeks to make. The Student Affairs office also hosts bi-monthly Wellness Dinners where students can talk with each other and a psychologist about various topics pertaining to wellness while in medical school.
So how can you best protect yourself from falling into depression while in school? I think that answer is different for everyone, but talking openly and honestly about the struggles we face in school and in medicine as a field with family, friends, colleagues, mentors, and mental health professionals like a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker is a great start.