Hi folks! I wanted to take some time today to chat about a sensitive topic that doesn’t get enough attention. Deep breath! Ready? Okay. Let’s talk about mental health in medical school.
I first began to think about mental health as an ubiquitous problem when a good friend from college visited me in San Antonio. Let’s call her Violet. Violet is also a medical student in a different city and was in town for a conference a few months ago. My lovely friend has it all: she’s gorgeous, has a wonderful boyfriend, is super smart and funny, and has lots of friends. She can also walk on water and breathe fire and tame dragons – you get the point. I’ve always envied her a little because I wanted to be just like her. I still do. But when we had lunch a few months ago, Violet confessed to me that she was having panic attacks right before exams, and suffers from anxiety and depression. I was shocked. Here’s why: up until that point I thought I was the only one having issues with school. I then realized that just maybe, we’re all in this together.
I’m not going to spend yet another paragraph telling you how hard medical school can be. You have plenty of people saying that already. But I am going to say how hard dealing with how hard medical school is. Does that make any sense?
With that said, I have a confession. I go to counseling. Sometimes, I get stressed out. I get sad. I get anxious. And I need a healthy, constructive way to deal with my stress. Yes, I work out. Yes, I try to eat healthy. But I also go to counseling. It is a little scary announcing that on a blog for everyone to see, but I am doing it because I know that I am not alone. For those of you who feel a little lost, a little scared and a little anxious, I need to tell you that YOU are NOT ALONE. And neither is my friend Violet.
Going to counseling does not make you crazy. If anything, I think it makes you smart. Violet goes as well, and it really helps her. A lot of our classmates go, too. One day, we’ll be doctors ourselves. In order to be there for our patients, we need to be healthy too. If you had a tooth ache, wouldn’t you go to the dentist? Mental health is NO different. If you think you need help, there is no shame in that. In fact, I’m proud of those who stand up and speak out. There needs to be more of that.
There is a stigma against mental illness and health when the fact is that so many students face this sort of challenge. It doesn’t mean that we won’t be terrific doctors. It means that the process of becoming a terrific doctor is not without its hurdles. The trick is to get help often and early so that mental health does not become a barrier to success.
According to a 2008 article from American Medical News, “a study in the…Annals of Internal Medicine found that 50% of approximately 2,200 medical students surveyed at seven medical schools reported burnout, while 11% said they considered suicide in the past year.” This is serious business.
I happen to be very lucky in that I have a loving and supportive group of family and friends to reach out to. My school also does a fantastic job of supporting its students. We have access to free counseling and therapy, and our deans and professors check in on us regularly. Just last week one of the deans called me into his office just to chat and check in. If you find that school and life is getting to be just too much to bear, please reach out to someone. Like I’ve said before, you’re not alone.
Do you or does someone you know struggle with stress or depression? What do you do to relieve stress and stay healthy and happy?
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All of the opinions expressed here are the author’s and hers alone, and do not represent necessarily those of Kaplan or its employees.