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Medical students need better mental health support

Emotional toll of NHS work can strain doctors’ mental health

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Better mental health support is needed for medical students to prepare them for the highly pressurised work of being a doctor, the BMA has decided.

A motion was passed today at its annual representative meeting in Brighton calling for better mental health support for medical students and for universities to recognise the unique pressures faced by people preparing for a career in the health service.

Conference delegates passed a motion whose wording was: “That this meeting notes there is a need for increased recognition, publicity and support for the mental health needs of medical students.”

The motion also called for:

  • more research into the types of mental health issues experienced by medical students
  • improved services available to them
  • a review of current mental health support provided by medical schools, particularly noting any disparities in support offered between schools
  • mental health awareness and promotion of self-care practices be made a core part of the curriculum
  • student health services to provide extended opening hours for those studying medicine, who were often unable to comply with a nine-to-five timetable.
Mita Dhullipala, BMA medical students committee co-chair, said: “We know that poor mental health is a serious and widespread problem among medical students, and passing this motion marks a positive step that our concerns are being recognised by the profession more widely.

“The statistics on this issue are shocking: while Universities UK recently reported* a fivefold increase in the number of students reporting mental health conditions in the last decade, other research has shown that around a third of those studying medicine worldwide suffer from depression, while one in 10 have experienced suicidal thoughts.”

There were many reasons why medical students were at particular risk of developing mental health problems, she added, such as stress, sleep deprivation, academic struggles and being far from home triggering feelings of anxiety and depression, medicine being a long, competitive and expensive course to choose, and students often finding themselves in traumatic clinical situations that they could be unprepared for.

“While medicine is a testing career, the realities of which prospective doctors should not be sheltered from, they must be supported as they acclimatise to the emotional toll of working in the health service,” she argued.

“If we are to improve the mental health and wellbeing of medical students, then both educators and policy-makers must first recognise these unique pressures, and act to ensure proper support is there.

“Furthermore, with study worries intrinsically linked to poor mental health, those providing pastoral support and advice at university must not be the same staff assessing academic performance and making decisions over students’ future progression.”

*Minding our Future: Starting a conversation about the support of student mental health. A report prepared by Universities UK, 2018.

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