More 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.
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.
- Major depression among adults. (2015). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adults.shtml
- 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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