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A closer look at depression and distress among medical students

Past research has shown that many medical students struggle with depression, anxiety and other mental-health issues. Now, two papers in the Sept. 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association take a closer look at the prevalence - and effect - of depression and distress among students.

In the first study, 14 percent of the 505 medical students studied reported having moderate or severe depression. Some depressed students also expressed a reluctance to seek help or talk with a counselor about their problem - something that Stanford psychiatrist Laura Roberts, MD, tells HealthDay News could "be due to time constraints, fears around confidentiality, and worries that they will become stigmatized."

In the second study, nearly 53 percent of the 2,682 students surveyed met the criteria for professional "burnout," and this burnout was associated with self-reported unprofessional conduct both in the classroom and clinical setting.

In an accompanying editorial (subscription required), Roberts says the papers serve as a reminder of how difficult medical school can be:

The initial encounters with severe illness and the extremes of life are poignant and profoundly affecting. Confronting the limits of modern medicine and learning to help patients bear illness, pain, and distress are hard experiences too, particularly when the demands placed on the student's intellect, physical and mental health, and personal relationships are so great.

Roberts also talks about the potential value of interventions that are "attuned to students' needs, professional development, and learning settings." And she notes that efforts to help medical students would also benefit their future patients.

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