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More than 80% of medical students with mental health issues feel under-supported, says Student BMJ survey

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 01 September 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4521
  1. Matthew Billingsley, editor, Student BMJ

Student BMJ surveyed 1122 medical students about their health. Matthew Billingsley looks at the results and the reactions to them

Most medical students who experience mental ill health feel under-supported by their medical schools, a small online survey by the Student BMJ has found. Of the 1122 UK based respondents, 30% (343) declared they had experienced or received treatment for a mental health condition while at medical school. From this group, 80% (276) thought the level of support available to them was either poor or only moderately adequate. Just under 15% (167) of the survey’s respondents also revealed that they had considered committing suicide at some point during their studies.

“The number of students reporting mental illness or considering suicide is shocking,” Twishaa Sheth, chair of the BMA student’s welfare committee, said.

Debbie Cohen, senior medical research fellow at the University of Cardiff added: “whether a representative sample or not these figures are concerning. What is most concerning is that over 80% who have experienced mental distress have found the support they received only moderate or [they] received none at all.”

The survey was sent as an open invitation to Student BMJ readers and the respondents represent around 2% of UK medical students. In comparison, a survey of the general population in 2007 of 7403 adults found that 23% of adults met the criteria for at least one psychiatric condition and 16.7% of people had thought about committing suicide at some point in their life.1

This snapshot from the Student BMJ survey adds to the small evidence base about the prevalence of medical students’ mental ill health.

Cohen added that the results of the survey correlate with similar research she and her team presented at the International Conference on Physician Health in London in September 2014. Their research analysed …

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