Depression. It’s not something that we like to talk about or even acknowledge but it is real. Before attending medical school I would have never imagined being in a place to write about depression. But here I am.
First, I want to talk about why having the conversation about depression in medical school is important. Students and residents actually have higher rates of depression and suicide than other adults. A staggering statistic is that approximately 21.2% of medical students are suffering with depression. And I’ll be the first to say that nothing is “wrong” with the 21.2%. The cause, then? Stress and distress. Any physician or student can tell you that the occupation is a difficult one but the idea of reaching your wits’ end and experiencing burnout is, sometimes, even more difficult.
I won’t pretend to be an expert on depression or depression in medical school but I understand the feelings. We are supposed to be the best and the brightest and we place a lot of pressure on ourselves. We must be perfect. We must self-assess (criticize). We must save the world. We say all of these things to ourselves, when in all honesty, we should make sure that we are well before we can ever fathom healing someone else.
“But the most meaningful change is not institutional. It’s cultural. Even in medical circles, depression remains poorly understood and stigma is rampant,” writes Ajay Koti of Morsani College of Medicine while discussing the concept of Wounded Healers. Medical students and physicians fit the Jungian concept of the Wounded Healer almost perfectly. Much like Kheiron (Chiron), a creature in Greek mythology, students and physicians are “cursed” to roam the earth in excruciating pain as they make the world well while ignoring their own ailments.
Again, I do not have the answers and will never be giving medical advice on this blog but as someone who has dealt with the load of medical school for just over three semesters now, my advice is this: talk. Talk to a classmate and then maybe a counselor or doctor. The people who care about you will never judge you. This is important because even though the numbers are high enough to speak for themselves, very few students actually seek out medical attention. Talk to someone. And if you are on the other side and notice that someone you care about is showing signs of depression, don’t look the other way or be afraid to reach out. We all can make a difference.
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