Do you often feel sad, down, can’t get out of bed and drag yourself to class? Do you suffer from depression, or think you might? If you do, you’re not alone: though students enter medical school with mental health profiles similar to the rest of the population, doctors have higher rates of depression and suicide.
A New York Times article published Oct. 7 attempts to analyze those statistics and ask why, despite being more properly situated to understand mental health problems and seek help, doctors frequently choose to tough it out or self-medicate.
The article attributes this at least in part to the culture of medical education. Medical students tend to blame themselves for their problems and “have a difficult time admitting to any perceived weakness.” The competitive and stressful nature of medical education is sometimes isolating and functions as a sort of feedback loop for their Type-A personalities. Students may forego available counseling due to fear that their distress proves a kind of incompetence.
Another article, published in March at EMedicine, asserts that more should be done to educate medical students as soon as they begin their training about the facts of depression. Medical students and residents are vulnerable to depression due to long hours, learning to deal with death and dying, estrangement from support systems and general work stress. The writer encourages the medical community to destigmatize mental illness. It links to a consensus statement published in the Journal of American Medical Association in 2003, which aims to encourage treatment of depression by calling for a “shift in professional attitudes and institutional policies” that will support physicians seeking help.
The report notes that the concern for confidentiality in regarding mental health issues weighs heavily on young physicians, whose care providers may be on campus. It asks the Liaison Committee on Medical Education to mandate that schools educate students and residents about depression and suicide, encourage people to seek help, and foster a more supportive environment. After all, physicians more able to confront depression in themselves and their community are not only safer, but are better able to diagnose depression in their own patients.
If you need to talk to someone about depression, visit www.afsp.org or your medical school’s health clinic.