Depression On The Rise In Medical Residents

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Researchers recently discovered that nearly 29% of medical residents suffer from depression. The American Medical Association notes that this is 13% higher than the general population, yet medical residents are less likely to seek treatment. 

Dr. Douglas Mata, a resident physician at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, reviewed 54 studies spanning over the last 50 years that detailed residents and depression. Mata and his team of researchers recognized that not all of the cases were diagnosed with a clinical interview, which is why initially the depression rate varied from 20% to 43%. However after taking self-reports and other methods of measurement into account, Mata concluded that 29% of the 17,000 medical residents involved with the study had experienced depression.

A New Generation Of Residents

Dr. Thomas L. Schwenk, of the University of Nevada School of Medicine, wrote an editorial for JAMA and offers insight as to why graduate medical students are so prone to depression. Being in an extremely fast-paced environment for the first time, with no idea what to expect is one key stressor. Being on such a strict and precise patient schedule does not allow seasoned physicians to give new residents the guidance that they may have had in the past. Schwenk also notes that there has been a generational shift with residents, with no change in residency training programs. In an interview with TIME, Schwenk describes new technologies and ethical considerations by saying, “We just kind of throw residents into this world because that’s the way we did it…but our experience with this is from another era.”

Getting overwhelmed with the workload is not the only factor at play, as Schwenk believes an inability to cope with shocking situations may play a part in students’ depression. Medical residents witness various traumatic events, and developing more programs that mandate students “debrief” before or after these experiences may help them better process what they see. Graduate medical schools are becoming more cognizant of the issue, some of which have already started implementing the requirement.

Schwenk also brought to the forefront the issue of medical students not wanting to address their mental health needs. He states that many medical students will not reach out for help for fear that a documented mental health incident may hinder future career opportunities. Schwenk recognizes that diagnosing depression may be challenging, but believes that changes in medical training programs and offering more mental health care will help combat the depression rate of medical residents.


Sierra Kennedy
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