Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Life

Medical students and suicide

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 02 May 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j1460
  1. Flavia Munn, freelance journalist
  1. London, UK

Many medical students struggle with large debts and high academic standards. How can students’ wellbeing and the culture of medical school be improved?


During his second year of study, Tom (a pseudonym) regularly thought about killing himself and the freedom that this would bring. But the fourth year, UK based, medical student says he remained determined not to do it.

Tom represents the one in 10 medical students who experience suicidal thoughts, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis of the prevalence of depression, depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation among medical students published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) at the end of 2016, which reviewed over 200 studies in 43 countries.1

Tom hit rock bottom with ongoing depression in his second year and faced problems professionally because of his “lack of enthusiasm” in clinical skills teaching sessions. He also became aware that psychological issues, stemming from his childhood with a violent alcoholic father, were starting to surface.

“I thought about death daily, but luckily my innate stubbornness not to give in, and a promise I made to myself of never doing it, took precedence,” says Tom, who was among students to respond to a survey about medical student health conducted by Student BMJ in 2015.2

He says he did not receive adequate support from his university, but a network of friends and family, and the right combination of drugs from his GP, helped him to recover.

How common is suicide in the medical student population?

The research published in JAMA found that 27.2% of the 122 356 medical student participants reported depressive symptoms—higher than the general population. Around 11% of the participants reported suicide ideation.1

A Student BMJ survey of 1122 medical students, published in 2015, also found a high rate of suicide ideation (15%).2 A total of 30% of students …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription