Depression, Suicidal Thoughts Common Among Medical Students

Medical student with depressionMore than 27% of medical students have depression symptoms, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). This is significantly higher than the rate in the general population. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.7% of adults in the general population experienced depression in 2015.

Researchers have known about this higher-than-average rate of depression for more than a decade. With more research strengthening this finding, experts are now looking to find out if the high rate of depression is consistent through medical school and among established physicians.

Depression Among Medical Students

Researchers analyzed data from 167 peer-reviewed studies of depression in medical students. The studies spanned 43 nations and included 116,628 medical students. They also looked at 24 studies of suicidal ideation in medical students. These studies included 15 countries and 21,002 students. All studies were conducted prior to September 17, 2016, and all but one relied on self-reports to assess participants for symptoms of depression.

About 27% of study participants experienced clinically significant symptoms of depression during medical school, and 11% experienced thoughts of suicide. The study did not find significant differences between participants from different countries.

Though medical students are trained to recognize depression in their patients, the results suggest they might not recognize depression in themselves. Just 15.7% of medical students with symptoms of depression sought treatment.

Reducing Depression Rates Among Medical Students

The study’s authors point to the stressful, competitive nature of medical school as a potential cause of the high rate of depression among medical students. They suggest restructuring medical school programs, changing student evaluations, and increasing access to mental health services could reduce the depression rate.

Previous research has found similarly high depression rates among new doctors. In 2015, another study found a depression rate of 29% among medical residents. The study’s authors say the similarity of depression rates among medical students and residents suggests depression might be common at all stages of physician training and practice. They suggest future research should explore whether depression in medical school predicts later depression as a physician.


  1. Major depression among adults. (2015). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from
  2. Rotenstein, L. S., Ramos, M. A., Torre, M., Segal, J. B., Peluso, M. J., Guille, C., . . . Mata, D. A. (2016). Prevalence of depression, depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation among medical students: A systematic review and medical analysis. JAMA, 316(21). doi:10.1001/jama.2016.17324

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    December 19th, 2016 at 11:12 AM

    Look at the hours that these students are made to work with little to no rest. Who can go on living a life like that and NOT experience some form of depression? It is hard enough to think on your feet when you are well rested but when you are expected to work 20 hours or more straight without sleep, something is going to suffer.

  • Carson


    December 21st, 2016 at 1:58 PM

    It is terrible to think about the many medical students every year who struggle with this silently because they are afraid of the competitive world in which they thrive. There is no way that they think that they can show any sign of weakness because then that means that they lose their spot or they might not get that next placement or promotion that they are lining up for.

    I hope to have well rested and non depressed doctors, because what kind of care are they supposed to be able to provide for me when they are also struggling with their own set of problems?

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