Mental illness and medical students

Daryl Cheng, Tran Nguyen & Flora Poon

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Dr. Daryl R Cheng
Intern, Royal Melbourne Hospital

Dr. Tran T Nguyen
Resident Medical Officer, Flinders Medical Centre

Flora Poon
Third Year Medicine (Undergraduate)
Bond University

Daryl is the Welfare Officer for the Postgraduate Medical Council of Victoria JMO Forum in 2011, and has a keen interest in medical student and junior doctor well-being. He has previously served as the Community and Well-being Officer at the Monash University Medical Undergraduates Society and co-authored a paper on depression in Australian medical students.
Tran is a resident at Flinders Medical Centre in 2011. She worked on research looking at depression in Australian medical students as a final year medical student.
Flora was a lead author in research looking at depression in Australian medical students. She is currently a third year medical student at Bond University.

The recent article by Nguyen in AMSJ Vol 2, Issue 1 [1] raises several interesting points for discussion regarding the mental health of medical students.

In recent years, the mental well-being of medical students has received increasing publicity and coverage. This was previously a somewhat taboo topic within the medical community, but it has transitioned to become an issue that is now widely discussed and debated amongst students, faculty and the wider medical community. The outcome has been fruitful with a multitude of new initiatives highlighting the importance of mental health in health professionals. Nevertheless, there continues to be a worrying disparity in the prevalence of mental illness between medical students and the wider Australian population.

Nguyen outlined key factors that could contribute to this problem, including the fact that the medical course inflicts on students immense stressors including an overwhelming workload, rigorous examinations and lofty aspirations. [2,3] There is no doubt that this places an increasing burden on medical students. However, it must also be acknowledged that medical students generally have limited constructive coping strategies to deal with such stressors in the first place. Consequently, this may lead to a downward spiral involving concomitant behavioural problems; for example, excessive alcohol intake and the use of recreational drugs. [4]