I had an interesting experience whilst on my mental health placement last week. I have just started on a Psychiatry rotation and have had the privilege of speaking to several patients with various psychiatric conditions. This is usually followed by debriefing in a conversation over lunch with two of my registrars and a fellow medical student.
It’s so common to feel alone and without support, especially in the midst of exams
During one of these conversations last week, the topic of discussion turned to mental health in doctors and medical students. My colleague shared a story about some difficulties she faced in regards to mental health during her first few years of medical school. Our registrars provided some insight into the commonality of her thoughts and feelings amongst medical students and junior doctors based on experience they have had with patients. It was clear from our conversation that mental health can affect anyone at any time – no one is immune to mental illness, regardless of how incredibly smart or talented they are. Medical students in fact, are probably more susceptible due to the stress and exhaustion from completing such a challenging degree.
A recently published review in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) observed the prevalence of depression, depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation among medical students. The results indicated that the mental health of medical students is a significant issue globally – with 27.2% (of 116,628 students) having experienced depression or depressive symptoms, while 11.1% had suicidal thoughts. This can be due to several reasons. Another editorial in that accompanies this research in JAMA discusses the culture of medicine and the aspects that are likely to contribute to difficulty in focusing on the mental health risks of medical professionals in training. A lot of medical students have very high expectations of themselves, and the competitive and perfectionist nature of students’ means that sometimes, taking time out to rest or recover is a sign of weakness. But it really is okay. Students should embrace the opportunity to explore mental health and be at the forefront of removing the stereotype and stigma surrounding mental illness in the health profession.
“Having a personal experience with mental health does not make you any less capable of a medical student or doctor”
Medical school is quite the emotional rollercoaster, and I imagine working as a doctor will be as well. Having a personal experience with mental health does not make you any less capable of a medical student or doctor and it should not be uncomfortable to talk about. It is important that we learn to place as much importance on our own health as the health of our patients. So I would encourage you to speak about your experiences and more importantly, take care of your mental health 🙂