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Posted on Wed, Sep 15, 2010 : 5:58 a.m.

University of Michigan study: Medical students hide depression

By Juliana Keeping

Depression is stigmatized in the hyper-competitive pressure-cooker known as medical school.

And that's a real problem, according to new research from the University of Michigan.

A study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association says medical students suffering from depression feel revealing their illness could be a risky career move.


A new U-M study looks at depression in medical students.

Losing respect and being perceived as unable to cope or handle medical responsibilities were common concerns among those who reported moderate to severe symptoms of depression, according to the study. It involved students enrolled at the U-M Medical School over three months in 2009.

“These results show that students who are depressed feel highly stigmatized by their fellow students and faculty members,” Thomas L. Schwenk, the lead author on the paper and the chair of U-M Department of Family Medicine, said in a U-M press release.

“Medical students are under extraordinary demands,” he continued. “They feel they are making life and death decisions and that they can never be wrong. There is such tremendous pressure to be perfect that any sense of falling short makes them very anxious.”

Schwenk said that while the stigma associated with depression in the general population appears to have waned, the medical field and — particularly the hyper-competitive, pressure cooker medical school environment — is sorely lagging behind.

And that has to change.

U-M and many other medical schools have confidential resources available to students suffering from depression. But the depression stigma among medical students remains worrisome.

“If medical students are critical of each other about depression, how does that transfer to patients? We don’t want the medical education experience to make them less tolerant of mental illness,” he said.

Schwenk will continue the research by following the students studied through their training.

Juliana Keeping is a health and environment reporter for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter



Wed, Sep 15, 2010 : 11:38 p.m.

I'd be cautious, myself, getting help for any kind of emotional issue while in that situation. It is impossible to tell who may read your "confidential" record and what perception they may develop about you based on the little information they may have access to. I have noticed at UofM, in particular, much "confidential" information tends to find its way into numerous records. Their data base of information seems to be well-connected. I have been shocked at times to see what confidential information from one department makes it to another department. Considering how many employees, staff, outside research groups, etc. have access to these records, I'd be concerned. I'd like to see UofM handle such private information more carefully, isolating it, at least, to just the department it originated in.


Wed, Sep 15, 2010 : 5:52 p.m.

Medical schools have long had their own intense culture of macho. Rather than having bodies crash into each other on a football field, this is all about cramming vast amounts of information prior to exams, and working consecutive shifts where critical patient decisions may be made or acted upon by inexperienced people suffering under conditions of severe sleep deprivation. (Is the 36-hour day still legal for med school students? Some places attempted to outlaw this.) Med school is partly about whether the student is "man enough" to stand up to the emotional and physical rigors of an arbitrary academic regime. It's a more sophisticated and years-long alternative to mindless fraternity hazings. Administrators make up reasons as to why this sanctioned academic torture should continue. They babble on about how it builds character and instills discipline. In the end, the bottom line behind such rationalizing is often that veteran doctors feel that if they had to go through it when they were younger, then so should current medical students, too. Just like when some older frat boys object to new house pledges not being hazed as harshly as they were.