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Medical students, suicides and mental health

 

Last spring, while a medical student at Harvard, Ned Morris wrote a column for the Washington Post that asked, "If health-care providers can't overcome the stigma of mental illness, who will?" He went on to disclose for the first time that he had suffered from depression brought on by the stresses of medical school.

In the days leading up to the publication of the piece, Morris was anxious about the impact of revealing his secret and even thought his disclosure might jeopardize his residency. It didn't. In fact, he found that colleagues and mentors were routinely supportive. But it did raise for him a significant issue, the self-stigmatization of mental illness. "It's the self-stigma that's hardest to conquer," he wrote in the piece. "How do you overcome the inner shame of the diagnosis [of depression], the sense of being less than everyone else?"

Now a psychiatry resident at Stanford, Morris is prying open another mental health issue: suicide among medical students. Last week, the Post published a column he wrote entitled "Medical school can be brutal and it's making many of us suicidal." While the data is scant about the number of medical students who take there own lives, Morris wrote, "In surveys, roughly 10 percent of medical students have reported having thoughts of killing themselves."

For my latest 1:2:1 podcast, I talked with Morris about mental health, suicide and what medical schools across the country are doing to help their students cope with the "unrelenting pressures" students face and that plunge many of them into despair.

At the end of his recent essay, Morris posed this though-provoking question: "Medical students spend their days learning how to help others. Can we learn to care for them, too?"

Previously: Mental health in medical school: A resident calls for reformsUsing arts and communication to help physicians improve health, avoid suicideKeeping an even keel: Stanford surgery residents learn to balance work and life and Supporting medical students’ mental, emotional health

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