The Mental Health of Medical Students: Challenges and Remedies

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What is mental health?

Mental health includes all aspects of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional wellness. All that matters is how individuals behave, feel, and think. Mental health is a condition of mental well-being that helps people to cope with life’s stressors, develop their potential, study and work effectively, and contribute to their communities. The importance of everyone’s mental health goes well beyond ensuring that they are free from mental illnesses. It is crucial to well-being because it enables individuals to reach their full potential, display resiliency in the face of adversity, be productive in all spheres of everyday life, develop deep connections and give back to their communities.

What is medicine?

The goal of medicine is to preserve and advance the general well-being of communities. Consequently, current medical students should be well-equipped to carry out the work. Since the process of teaching medical professionalism is a determining factor in the levels of knowledge and skills of aspiring physicians, medical schools frequently use an intensive curriculum that can have several negative effects on students’ lifestyles and expose them to high levels of mental stress. According to earlier data, psychiatric diseases such as depression, anxiety, and stress are noticeably greater in medical schools. However, psychological strain can also contribute to alcohol and drug misuse, which runs counter to the goals of medical education and can result in students’ unintentional academic failure.

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Symptoms of Mental Health Disorders in Students

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Psychological research has shown more than 200 different types of mental disorders. Depression, stress, and anxiety disorders are the most common and well-known types. According to several studies, medical students are more susceptible to mental problems, and stress is a common complaint among them. In actuality, the stressful environments created by medical education can result in anxiety and despair. As a result, stress is the primary indicator of mental suffering in medical students, with anxiety and depression as its effects.

Global Prevalence of Health Issues Among Medical Students

A study conducted in the United Kingdom (UK) found that 39.1% of medical students qualify as people with mental illnesses. Additionally, Willcock et al. carried out a comparable GHQ-28 study in Australia and the Pacific Islands. According to their research, around 70% of the medical instructors suffered from psychiatric illnesses.  The higher frequency of mental problems among medical students may be due to poor educational processes and lower levels of knowledge in underdeveloped nations.

 Causes of medical students’ mental health problems

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 University is a new and unfamiliar location for students to live away from their homes and families, and it is marked by significant lifestyle changes that cause stress. According to some research, the year of education has an impact on mental health issues. Since fresh students have not yet been exposed to curricular influences and the difficulty of medical training, they concluded that students in higher terms demonstrated the larger harmful effects of mental problems. Due to the increasing academic workload and the lack of time for personal interests, high-term medical students may experience emotional issues.

 On the other side, moving from general education courses to clinical courses in higher grades can result in extremely distressing emotional experiences. One individual factor used to estimate the likelihood of the occurrence of mental diseases is gender. Most polls found that female medical students were more likely to encounter mental health issues while they were training. Age also appears to be a key element in managing stress and avoiding its negative effects. Older people typically prefer isolation-based coping tactics like smoking and drinking alcohol, while younger students are better able to adopt more sociable techniques like sports and buddy trips.

Low-income parents put their children through additional stress while they are in school trying to figure out how to pay the bills. According to a recent epidemiological study of 103,650 participants, those who slept for less than 7 hours and those who slept for 9 hours or more had worse mental health than others. 

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Mental health effects on medical students

According to the research, medical students have historically been the most disturbed members of society because of their rigorous academic requirements. The significant effects of this high level of stress might lead to a variety of lifestyle issues. Because of this, they are failing to identify this issue in the early stages may result in unforeseen adverse outcomes.

Medical students’ cognitive and learning capacities may suffer as a result of mental anguish. Mental health issues make it difficult for medical students to perform their tasks because they demand alertness and comprehension. Higher degrees of health issues were associated with reduced academic self-efficacy in students, which makes it difficult for them to persevere through challenges in the classroom. They are unable to select the best approach to solving the issues.

Many students chose to use tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs as a way to cope with the curriculum’s increased demands that cause medical stress. Numerous studies have demonstrated the negative social effects of drug and alcohol use, including involvement in fights and disagreements, absence from school, and other dangerous behaviors.

According to a multi-institutional study, 1 in 9 medical students had suicidal thoughts at least once while they are in school, and 34% of those who have suicidal thoughts created a suicide plan. In contrast, it is thought that 8 to 25 suicide attempts occur for every suicide fatality. Consequently, the statistics are much higher than those for people of a similar age in the general population.

 Suggested remedies to lessen mental issues

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Even though each of the aforementioned causes of mental diseases proposes a specific treatment, other forms of therapy are more widespread and effective at addressing a larger spectrum of issues. In this regard, the majority of institutions and colleges now have counseling centers. The institutes typically teach students stress management techniques to deal with stress and its negative effects (86). Some of the most advantageous control methods are listed below:

  1. Regular exercise and physical activity can boost traits like self-assurance, alertness, focus, cognitive ability, and sleep quality that are frequently disturbed by mental health issues. These processes are often carried out by the brain’s natural painkiller endorphin production.
  2. Additionally, practicing healthy sleep habits is another strategy to manage stress given that sleep loss can result in stress and additional mental health issues.
  3. Many adolescents are also told to tell their friends, family, or classmates about their problems. In actuality, social involvement reduced the occurrence and prevalence of additional issues.
  4. However, establishing a good diet free of alcohol, tobacco, narcotics, and any stimulant like caffeine will assist the mind and body deal with stress.
  5. Try relaxing techniques like deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and rhythmic movement to relieve stress and pressure. These methods help people get their nervous systems and minds back in harmony.
  6. Religion and worship are other age-old tactics that have no negative effects or pharmacological interactions. Due to the sense of belonging to the supreme source, religion can eradicate mental health conditions. Due to this, the majority of medical schools incorporate spirituality and religion into their training programs.

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The medical school curriculum is viewed as stressful. Depending on the coping mechanisms chosen, this stress may be resolved or result in subsequent mental illnesses. Due to their improper coping mechanisms, a high percentage of medical students encounter mental health issues during their training years. Depression and anxiety are two different ways that stress can show up. Depending on the severity, mental diseases can cause a variety of issues, such as the use of illegal drugs, excessive alcohol use, learning difficulties, incidences of self-injury, and sleep problems.

Primary disorders may result in suicide if these issues are not managed. Regular exercise, sound sleep practices, social interaction, a balance between studies and other activities, relaxation techniques, and religion are just a few strategies for managing stress and its subsequent effects. These factors should be considered as medical schools build curricula to accommodate students’ mental states. To determine the trends in the prevalence of mental disorders, additional research is necessary to assess the effectiveness of medical schools in lowering student stress.

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