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Depression and Med School


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I'm just a premed, waiting for that fateful May 15th, but while I'm waiting...

 

Given the stressful nature of med school and residency (lots of information to learn, long hours, high debt load, etc), do you find that many students suffer from depression/anxiety? How do people manage these issues and what kind of specific support is available should students suffer from depression?

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Hey there,

 

Here at Ottawa, there are counselling services available through the faculty directly. You could also seek help via student health services, as would be the case with most universities I believe.

 

So far the first 2 years of med school have not been too stressful though.

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Depression is very common in the population and of course many students suffer as well. At the UofA we have great student affairs people to help out, the university health center and I believe the college of physicians and surgeons has some counselling services also. The faculty are very flexible and supportive, if you need time or extra assistance there are always people willing to help.

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Hey all:

 

I was just wondering if anyone has any stats on the frequency of the supportive services actually being used.

 

Presumably, medical students are successful indviduals in terms of academics and many other ascepts of their lives. I wonder if they have trouble asking for help sometimes....

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Depression is ridiculously common in medical school - particularly the first few years. I knew several classmates open about being on anti-depressants, a few others in the closet, would guess there were others I didn't know about, and am sure there were a bunch in denial.

 

The first few years of med school pretty much suck. Some people enjoy because they love the fact they're in medical school, but there's lots to be not happy about. (depending on the med school) you're usually stuck in a classroom for 35-40 hrs a week. We almost never saw daylight oct-mar in first and second year --> the perfect setup for SADS. Unless you've got extensive credit at the bank of mom and pop, you see yourself accumulate ridiculous amounts of debt (I surpassed most people's undergrad debt after my first year.) Med school is full of grunt work - memorizing lots of stuff for tests you'll never use later, unless you do that specialty. Most of us were the top students in high school or undergrad, and now you may find yourself middle of the pack. Considering middle of the pack wouldn't have gotten you IN to med school in the first place, lots of med students freak out over this. You're still not sure what you're going to do for the rest of your life, and rumours still fly around that if you're middle of the pack (which you likely are as most med students are by definition going to be middle of the pack of medical school) you'll end up in your least favourite specialty choice in your least favourite city (which for me would have been neurosurgery in Toronto.) It never seems like you can study enough. Many med students are used to getting high 90s on tests that were fair. . . some of docs setting tests in med school have never set tests before and throw in "guess what I'm thinking" questions or ones on topics never covered in lectures. Many of the curriculum in the country are ridiculously disorganized (I say this from talking to residents who were med students at places across the country) and what sounded great on paper (PBL, PCL, COPS, self-directed learning) turns out to be some buzzword attached to a poorly organized course. You don't have a whole lot of time for a social life and many med students find themselves in cities where they know nobody but their classmates, as they went wherever they could get in, even if it's half the country away. If you're a medical student, there's a good chance you're Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (Not OCD) and all of this probably isn't sitting too well with your disorder. When you do get to clerkship, you find an archaic system where medical students are often expected to "pay their dues" by proving they can continue working for 36 hrs without sleep or food (it does happen!,) conditions no labour legislation would ever approve.

 

What's to get depressed about in medical school?

 

My vague memory of mental health issues was that the prevalence of psychiatric issues was similar between doctors/residents/medical students and the general public. . . but doctors have a lower prevalence of psychotic disorders, and a higher prevalence of mood disorders.

 

But seriously, seeing as I'm now less than 2 months away from being done residency, I can honestly say it's all worth it. You just have to keep perspective.

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Hi smurfette,

 

Great question to ask, I think it's a good thing to be aware of and to think about for all premedical students. Medical school is definitely a big stressor and something you need to find ways to adapt to. Everyone adapts differently, and some just don't adapt very well and will need help at some point.

 

I just wanted to comment for all premeders and current medical students that we are not immune to stress and mental health problems, and stressors vary by person. For example, some of the posters have commented that they haven't found it too stressful yet. For some, the first year of medical school and adapating to a whole new mentality and crowd of people is the most difficult and most stressful. For others, starting clerkship and working long hours, feeling all the responsibility, dealing with difficult staff etc. is really difficult. And for some, the last year of medical school was the most difficult, where you're living away from home during electives, have had very little vacation, applying to residency, interviews, studying for the LMCC etc.

 

There are many people in my graduating year whom have gone through depression or anxiety. Our Faculty at U of Ottawa is fantastic for offering help in a confidential and supportive manner. And our class is particularly open to discussing mental health issues in class out loud and supporting our peers (our class created the Mental Health elective at our university and many of our classmates shared stories about previous problems they had had with mental health).

 

Sincerely,

wassabi

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  • 2 weeks later...

I fell into a major clinical depression the summer after first year of medical school. It really took me by surprise... I'm quite laid back, wasn't really stressed about anything, and BAM! It hit like a tonne of bricks. I stopped working. Then I stopped getting out of bed. Then I started thinking that I should kill myself. That's when I decided to get help. At first, I used the student health clinic which is used by students in all faculties. When I was given an antidepressant, I started bouncing off the walls, which is an indication of possible manic-depression, so I was referred to a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, there was a three month waiting list. It was September by this time, and second year had started, so we were in the middle of classes and I did not sleep for two weeks, maybe more. I passed out in the middle of a clinical exam session due to exhaustion (luckily, I made it into the hallway before I hit the floor so it remained my little secret). At this point, I knew I wasn't gonna make it the whole three months, so I went to the student affairs office. They were super awesome about it and got me in to see a psychiatrist at the university in one week. I felt bad for jumping the queue for about a nanosecond, but at this point I was exhausted and I had failed an exam, and if I had three months to wait, I would have failed the rest of them, too.

 

This is long and rambling, but the point is that schools are incredibly supportive, this is more common than you think, and I'm definitely not the only one in my class who needs this sort of help. I am heading into third year in the fall and the faculty is modifying my call schedule so I don't go hypomanic again. They will support you, and I have learned the hard way that there is no shame in asking for help.

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Great post, chemgirl! It might encourage others going through a hard time to actually go and ask for help as you did... & to realize they're not the only ones to whom it happens. I know it gives me confidence, going in med, that it'll be ok if anythink like that happens... (who knows what the stress will do, right?). So thanks :)

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