The medical profession can be a highly stressful one. Medical doctors and mental health doctors must address difficult situations every day. They often encounter crisis situations and must possess the mental capacity to be able to react swiftly and accurately to address the needs of their clients. Medical students learn many of these skills during their years of education and clinical practice. This intense protocol can cause its own stress-related issues, and many medical students have disproportionately high levels of mental health challenges. Studies that examine the mental well-being of medical students and professionals have relied on a variety of tools to do so. In a recent study conducted by Rael D. Strous of the Beer Yaakov Mental Health Center at Tel Aviv University in Israel, the mental health of medical students was assessed using self-reports.
For the study, Strous asked 110 first-year and fifth-year medical students to write a one-page synopsis of their own mental state. He encouraged them to base their diagnoses on the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, and evaluated the responses for similarities and trends. Strous found that over half of the students (55.5%) disclosed that they had symptoms of some form of mental illness. Although they were mostly minimal, the symptoms that were most commonly reported were those for mood issues and obsessive or compulsive behaviors. Psychotic symptoms and schizotypal behaviors were the least reported among the students.
When Strous compared the results by gender, the data revealed more Axis I disorders among the women than the men, specifically anxiety, depression, and social phobia. Strous also found that the rates of psychological symptoms decreased from year one to year five among the majority of the students. Although these results are based on self-reports alone, Strous believes that they are still significant. “If true, the findings suggest that it would be important to further efforts in developing support programs for medical students during their studies coordinated by appropriate mental health professionals,” said Strous. These findings could also suggest that medical students with a history of psychological symptomology may be more empathetic to the clients they serve simply because of their own experience with similar conditions.
Strous, Rael D. et al. (2012). Medical students’ self-report of mental health conditions. International Journal of Medical Education 3, 1-5.
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