TUESDAY, Sept. 14 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that
depressed medical students are more likely than their non-depressed
counterparts to think that depression spells big trouble.
"They are much more likely to believe that mentally ill students like them will be isolated and stigmatized," said study author Dr. Thomas L. Schwenk, a professor at the University of Michigan. "They are not comfortable revealing their depression because they feel less worthy and less valuable."
Previous research has shown that a lot of medical students
struggle with mental health issues: they suffer from more
depression and burnout than the general population, and they commit
suicide and consider killing themselves more often than other
people of the same age.
"On the whole, though, they often do not seek treatment due to time constraints, fears around confidentiality, and worries that they will become stigmatized," said Dr. Laura Weiss Roberts, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, who wrote a commentary accompanying the study.
A second study in the same issue of the journal found that
burnt-out medical students were more likely to report
unprofessional conduct in patient care. In surveying students from
seven U.S. medical schools, the Mayo Clinic researchers found 52.8
percent of the students surveyed had burnout.
Both studies are published in the Sept. 15 issue of the
Journal of the American Medical Association.
In the first study, Schwenk and his colleagues surveyed 769
medical students at the University of Michigan Medical School and
got responses back from 505.
The researchers found that, overall, about 14 percent of the
students reported having moderate or severe depression; the rate
was 18 percent in women, double the 9 percent rate reported in
Students with symptoms of moderate or severe depression were
much more likely than other students to believe that alerting a
counselor to their problems would be risky. More than 80 percent of
students reporting symptoms of depression expressed the opinion
that faculty members would lose faith in the abilities of depressed
students; only 55 percent of non-depressed students agreed with
Do the depressed students simply have a more accurate view of
the stigma and problems that depressed medical students would face?
Or are their views of reality blurred by their own depression? It's
not entirely clear, Schwenk said.
However, medical school "causes students to feel like they have
to be perfect," he said. "If they're not, they feel vulnerable and
less worthy. They may project that and make students who are
depressed feel like they're less valuable."
The study also looked at whether the participants thought
medical students' depression posed a risk to patients. More than
one-third of men thought depressed medical students could endanger
patients, compared to 20 percent of women.
Overall, the study suggests that "there are significant barriers
to effective mental care among physicians just like there are among
patients," Schwenk said. "Some of the stigma that seems to exist
among patients, and the stigma they feel in their daily lives,
seems to carry over to physicians."
Roberts said the findings should inspire medical schools to
support students and create new services to help them.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on