“My medical school allows time for leisure activities, but generally you don’t have the energy both to enjoy leisure activities in time off and to keep up to date with academics. It’s quite challenging to balance both sides.” -Sneha Kumar, Medical student
Medical school is inherently a stressful and a challenging academic experience, which may make medical students vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and burnout. The potential psychological distress in medical students have been studied by various researchers. Subsequent to medical school, life of a practicing physician also often lends to a chronically stressful lifestyle.
You must have heard a lot about physician burnout and depression lately: A flurry of studies have shown the high rates of burnout and depression among doctors. A recent statistic notes that the suicide rate amongst physicians was the highest among any occupation. Another study found that more than one in four medical students experienced depression or depressive symptoms. One study said that nearly in one in two residents experience burnout symptoms. There's no denying that doctors aren't good at taking care of their mental health, but it seems like even admitting to struggling is a problem. If only medical students and doctors had the same courage and insight to ask for help more often.
Why mental health matters
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also aids in determining how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Maintaining proper emotional health and strength promotes productivity and effectiveness in work, school, and caregiving. Mental health governs how we interact with the world around us and the perspective from which we view hurdles that we face.
Historically in the medical community, there is a stigma associated with receiving mental health services that prevents many from seeking help. They don’t want it to impact their careers and have colleagues look at them differently. They don’t want to be viewed as anything short of ‘heroic’. Medical students strive to emulate these historical standards placed by physicians who have come before them. These are the people we look up to and work tirelessly to impress. Many medical students find themselves asking: If they didn’t need mental health services, why do we?
Maybe it’s not that they didn’t need mental health services, but that they just had a different set of tools they utilized to take care of themselves physically and emotionally.
How often do we take time to really evaluate our mental health?
Are we happy? Sad? Stressed? All the above? We often get so wrapped up in our studies that we fail to really acknowledge the emotional fluctuations that accompany trying to balance professional tasks with personal struggles.
Maintaining a clear, level head helps us to cope adequately with the stress that accompanies medical school and, while we each have different ways of going about this, the end result is the same: increased productivity and long-term health benefits.
To all students and doctors in training: It's okay to be frustrated, tired, burnt out. It's okay to need a break. It's okay to fail. Sometimes being resilient and having grit aren't enough, because working in medicine is just plain hard. It's even okay to hate medicine during those times. To say that you haven't experienced these emotions would be self-delusion: It'd be finishing a marathon and telling yourself you're not even a bit out of breath.
And when you do feel a little out of breath, remember: It's okay to ask for help.
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