Mental Health in Medical School: Is it a bigger problem than you think?
Background: Mental health issues are common among medical student but under-recognized. Rates of depression are higher among medical students compared to the general population, yet few students seek help. Objective: This study examined the difference between perception and reality of medical student mental health. Methods: Current medical students and faculty at an urban academic medical center were surveyed anonymously via internet link regarding personal experience and perceptions of student mental health. Results: Nearly 40% of medical students (n=176) thought between 21-40% of their classmates have had mental health issues, while 61% of faculty (n=36) thought only 0-20% of students had (p <0.001), despite 74% of faculty reporting speaking with students regarding their mental health issues. Since starting medical school 68% of students reported feeling down, depressed, or hopeless at some point; at the time of survey 20% of students screened positive for depression using the PHQ-2. Sixty-four-percent of students thought classmates would view them differently if they knew they were dealing with depression. Of medical students, 39% acknowledge talking with a mental health professional, compared to 71% of faculty. About 41% of students stated they would not use mental health services offered. Discussion: The discrepancy between perception and reality about medical student mental health issues is striking. Stigma influences student treatment choices. Awareness needs to be increased, among students and faculty and there is a need to develop acceptable treatment options for students.