Medical students are more likely to experience depression than the general population and perceive there is a stigma attached to mental illness – a new study shows.
The preliminary findings of Depression in Medical Students: Prevalence and Perception, a survey of more than 1000 medical students at four Australian universities, were presented at the 2009 Asian Medical Students’ Conference (ASMC) in Taiwan that focused on stigmatised illness.
Lead researcher Tran Nguyen [pictured], a fourth-year medical student at Flinders University, said the aim of the study was to gain some understanding of how depression affects medical students.
“International studies have consistently reported a higher prevalence of depression among medical students than the general population, and our study reflects these results,” Ms Nguyen said.
“We found that of the medical students surveyed only 40 per cent accurately identified the chance of themselves or someone close to them experiencing depression,” she said.
“However, more than 56 per cent correctly estimated that one in five people in the general population will experience depression at some point in their life.”
The study also examined medical students’ attitudes to mental illness.
“Depression is a serious mental health condition and stigma is still a major factor in preventing people from seeking help,” Ms Nguyen said.
“Male students reported higher perceived stigmatisation than female students, in particular, thinking that people would talk badly about them.
“This was also the case with students who had completed psychiatry subjects.”
While the researchers did not examine the causes of depression among medical students, they believe consistently high levels of stress would be a major factor.
“Additionally, as medical students and future practitioners, we have the tendency to care for patients first and sometimes neglect our own health,” Ms Nguyen said.
“We hope that our study will highlight the need for more awareness programs in medical schools to promote a better understanding of mental illness among medical students.
“We’d also like to encourage those students who are afflicted by depression to open up and speak about their mental health with another medical professional.”