The Wollongong University Medical Students’ Society is concerned at a new survey revealing medical students and doctors are more stressed and depressed than other Australians.
One in five medical students and one in 10 doctors had suicidal thoughts in the past year, compared to one in 45 people in the wider community, according to the report commissioned by mental health charity beyondblue.
The National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students also found that more than 40per cent of students and a quarter of doctors were likely to have a minor psychiatric disorder, like mild depression or anxiety.
Wollongong University Medical Students’ Society president John Cherry said he welcomed the survey of more than 14,000 doctors and medical students as it highlighted the need for change.
‘‘Medical students associations are aware that there are higher rates of mental illness in medical students and junior doctors than the rest of the population,’’ he said.
‘‘But the rate highlighted in this survey is of particular concern and certainly we didn’t realise the situation was this bad.’’
Mr Cherry said heavy workloads contributed to the pressures felt by medical students and junior doctors in particular.
‘‘There’s also issues around the culture of the profession they’re entering into, it’s changing slowly but there’s still issues around the expected commitment you’re required to make,’’ he said.
‘‘Plus the stigma attached to mental illness is quite significant right across society but it has particular poignancy with the medical profession.
‘‘This means – and the report confirms – that medical students and doctors may be less likely to seek help when they do need it.’’
Mr Cherry said a good mental health strategy was needed.
‘‘There’s no easy answer – any solution must take a multi-faceted approach with the involvement of key stakeholders across medical education and the medical workforce in order to change the culture, offer more support to medical students and doctors and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness,’’ he said.
Professor of Psychiatry at UOW’s Graduate School of Medicine Nagesh Pai said the university had implemented a number of initiatives to help students and doctors deal with mental health issues.
‘‘We have a personal and professional development program which helps medical students to reflect on what their stresses are, and teaches them how to improve resilience, how to learn life-work balance and how to deal with difficult circumstances,’’ Professor Pai said.
‘‘We also have an Academy of Clinicians which meets once every three months to talk about these issues, and we have just introduced a mental health first aid course to help medical and nursing students identify difficulties in themselves and their peers.’’
Illawarra Shoalhaven Medicare Local clinical services triage clinician Jaci Smith also encouraged students and doctors to take advantage of mental health services and help lines.
For support people in distress can call Lifeline 131114.