Medical Students at Risk

Just as significant numbers of graduate students suffer from depression, a recent article by Jake New on Inside Higher Ed points to depression also being a significant problem in medical school.

“According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, medical students have rates of depression 15 to 30 percent higher than the general population. Nearly 10 percent of fourth-year medical students in a 2009 study reported having suicidal thoughts in the previous two weeks. Few seek help.”

The same study reported that “students entering medical school generally reported the same level of mental health issues as their peers, while several studies show that levels of depression and anxiety increase as the students move through medical school, meaning there are stressors unique to medical school programs that can lead to depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.. . . but medical students are still less likely to seek help for emotional and mental problems than their similarly aged peers.”

The pressures of medical school are significant. Besides all of the time that needs to be dedicated to study and work, meaning limited time for sleep and healthy eating habits, there is also the burden of financial debt (within the American medical school system), the sort of debt that seems possible to pay off only with the financial security of becoming a doctor. Add to this the burden of watching people suffer and die, leading to compassion fatigue (talked about often within the field of vet med). Add to this the stigma of  mental health issues, and it is a recipe for disaster both in med school and beyond. The article notes several high-profile suicides of med students in recent years; furthermore,  “each year, an estimated 300 to 400 doctors commit suicide. That’s the equivalent of losing an entire medical school student body to suicide annually.”

Your prayers for these students are appreciated, as well as for ministries like Campus Edge and the Christian medical association, that encourage and challenge med students on the difficult journey to becoming doctors.