Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Careers

When life looks bleak

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 01 September 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:0309326
  1. Laura Bennett, courtesy of Doctors' Support Network

Admitting you have a mental health problem can be traumatic for medical students. Despite these problems being common, stigma is still attached, which is why the medical student coauthor wants to remain anonymous. She and Laura Bennett give some practical advice about coping and seeking help

Mental illness does not discriminate--it can affect anyone at any time. For doctors and medical students, prevalence is actually greater than among the general population.14 Up to 36% of doctors working in the NHS have symptoms of minor psychiatric disorder.1 Less research has been done for medical students, but one study in the 1980s found that 31.2% of second year UK clinical students were emotionally disturbed compared with 9.7% of unemployed young people,3 and this prevalence is confirmed by more recent research.4 Imagining, however, that “this will never happen to me” is all too easy. It might.

First and foremost the ill person is a person. They may be in distress or have unusual circumstances, but their main wish is probably to be honest about their illness and to be able to continue to function as much as they are able.

How do you know if its you?

If someone tells you are unwell, then you probably are. Many of us are unaware of how we feel. We may feel constantly tired, feel below par, sleep badly, or just be plain grumpy and assume it is just part of being a medical student or doctor. If you constantly feel unwell or just not quite right then there is a problem. Talk to someone about how you feel or check your own mental health with Hamilton's depression rating scale or the general health questionnaire (

So what do I do next?

Admit it

Admitting that you have a problem and need help is a huge achievement. Many doctors and medical students currently work with different health …

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