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The Lowdown on Mental Health in Medical School

By OnlineMedEd January 2, 2018

Mental health in medical school is no joke, and the truth of this becomes all the more apparent once you begin your clerkship. There’s a lot that makes the beginning of year three in medical school tough; you have to apply your time-management skills to real-life scenarios and deploy the knowledge you’ve gained so far to take care of real-life patients . . . all while still attending daily lectures and studying for your shelf exams and USMLE Step 2. With so much on your plate, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, burnt out, and maybe even depressed.

As a doctor in training, you know the symptoms of depression and therefore would know whether you were experiencing it. If you’re still having trouble determining the state of your mental health, turn your situation into a test question, and use your symptoms as answer choices. Lack of interest, sleep, and appetite? Weight loss, poor concentration, and low energy? Feeling purposeless? If these are all circled, then chances are you’ve either hit the bottom or are about to.

But, as I mentioned earlier, the sheer volume of your obligations during your third year in medical school can contribute to your feeling down, and it’s nothing to feel bad about or hide. Things such as insufficient time with clinicians, receiving little to no feedback from mentors, unfriendly peers, and lack of firsthand experience can all play a part in leading you to feel depressed. If you reach this point, take these steps:


1. Reach out to your teachers, friends, and peers, and let them know how you feel.

The worst thing you can do is keep your thoughts to yourself. It’s important to realize that over a quarter of students in medical school have depression and up to 10% of medical students report being suicidal.


2. After reaching out, make the necessary changes to help get back to where you were before.

If this means cutting back hours studying or changing your schedule at the hospital, do it. It’s best to do what you need to do now, even if it may set you back because you don’t want things to get worse. If you’re still unsure of what changes to make, consult a professional and they can help you figure out what to do next.     


3. Check out some of the forums devoted to talking about the well-being of medical students.

With more and more cases of depression coming to light, medical schools across the country are starting to take action and provide appropriate support groups and counseling. Above all, don’t forget that it’s common to feel this way and that many of your classmates are probably feeling the same, or will at some point. It might seem like they’re doing just fine, but appearances can sometimes be deceiving.


National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255


Deep dives into real issues impacting medical education, brought to you by OnlineMedEd.


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