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Medical students with mental health problems get more help

New guidance will help universities offer more support to students who might otherwise drop out

Mark Gould

Thursday, 01 August 2013

The GMC and the Medical Schools Council (MSC) says its new guidance for universities will benefit medical students who are experiencing mental health problems.

The new guidance is designed to complement support systems that universities already have in place and highlights steps that medical schools can take to promote good mental health and wellbeing, encourage students to come forward and seek help and provide a range of support options.

Both the GMC and the MSC say medical students are often reluctant to ask for help and they fell this has to change. The guidance highlights examples of good practice such as Birmingham Medical School’s ‘Feel Bright’ Campaign which was set up as a joint initiative between student representatives and senior welfare staff to promote good mental health and well-being and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. The initiative includes interactive lecture sessions for first year students with sessions led by medical student volunteers to discuss common myths and how to promote good mental health.

Newcastle University Students Wellbeing Service has also established links with key external services including local GP practices, regional eating disorders teams and the North East Centre for Addictions among others to provide targeted help for their medical students.

The guidance calls on doctors and medical schools to de-stigmatise mental illness and for much more openness about the issue. It also says the GMC has its part to play, by making it clear having a mental health condition does not necessarily mean that a doctor is unfit to practise or a student to undertake their studies.

The guidance makes clear that students can be affected by a range of conditions – which include depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and substance misuse. Any one of these can affect the student’s ability to undertake their studies. The guidance suggests that medical students who are supported properly will provide better care for patients in the future. It also urges medical school staff not to treat students themselves but ensure they have access to independent and appropriate medical support.

The guidance has been developed in response to requests from medical schools who have said that this is one of the most complex situations they face. The guidance includes examples of good practice and advice for medical schools on how to provide the best possible help for students who are struggling with their course.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson, said: "These are the doctors of tomorrow - it is crucial they are given the support they need at every stage of their training. We need to be open about this – doctors like every other group in society have mental health problems which can affect their lives. In the vast majority of cases, with the right support they can be dealt with successfully, but it needs a culture which encourages students to come forward and seek help and it needs that support to be there. An awful lot of good work is going on in this area and we hope this new guidance will help every medical school to provide the best possible support to their students, building on the good work already being done.

"We believe the guidance will benefit medical students now and in the future and help ensure that future doctors can provide the best possible patient care."

MSC chair Professor Tony Weetman said the new guidance will be a great tool to help schools ensure that they’re getting the best out of these services and encouraging students to take full advantage of the help on offer. "Evidence has shown that students can be reluctant to seek help when they need it so it’s important that we work together to lessen the barriers between them and any support they need – because with good support having a mental health condition need not be a barrier to becoming a great doctor."

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