Whether it's to help others, to please suffocating parents, or to cash in on that six-figure salary, people want to become doctors. But as time progresses, the road to getting that MD is a lot rockier than most would imagine. In an exploratory study published in the Scholars Journal of Applied Medical Sciences, Dr. Prakash Mehta and a team of professors and residents observed the mental health of 73 freshly admitted medical students over the course of their first year at medical school. At the end of year, Dr. Mehta discovered that a significant amount of the students had developed depression, anxiety, and stress.

Side Effects Of Student Stress Noticed In As Little As 8 Weeks

The objective of this study was to examine how levels of anxiety, depression, and stress developed among first year medical students. The participants were the newest class at C.U. Shah Medical College in Surendranagar, Gujarat, India. Students answered a questionnaire gauging their anxiety, depression, and stress at the beginning of the semester, then again during the 8th week in.

In the first week, the questionnaire yielded the following diagnoses: 10 students with depression, 23 with anxiety, and 5 with stress. The results only worsened. Come the 8th week, 12 students had depression, 15 had anxiety, and 9 had stress. Fortunately, it seems that those diagnosed with anxiety in the first week were able to learn how to manage their illness better. These numbers show that over the course of 8 weeks in medical school, 15% suffered from depression, 26% suffered from anxiety, and 9.6% suffered from stress.

How To Avoid A Mental Breakdown

The average number of those who suffer from depression or anxiety is 5% and 17%, respectively. Dr. Mehta's study found that new medical school students have significantly higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress compared to the general population. “In addition to personal suffering," Dr. Mehta writes in his publication, "it may cause learning and interpersonal problems." Because of this, he advises medical students to look out for unhealthy levels of stress, and find treatment in its early stages. Referencing a medical student who mastered how to work hard, play hard, Dr. Mehta advises that students reduce stress by:

  • Joining a study group
  • Maintaining a close group of friends
  • Know your limit and set your own goals
  • Be social outside of medicine
  • Find a mentorship program
  • Coordinate clinical placements
  • Volunteer
  • Run extracurricular activities promoting healthcare
  • Keep a healthy lifestyle
  • Know when to seek help and where to find it

A Word On "Healthy Stress"

Dr. Mehta emphasizes that students need to recognize when their stress gets out of hand. More often than not, students believe that these excessive levels of stress are normal, allowing it become a constant fixture of their lives. But that kind of thinking has negative long-term effects. Allowing stress to drive you, according to Mehta, can “manifest in form of professionally burning out" or develop into “depression or lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes, cardiac disease," and so much more. Don't let these numbers deter you from pursuing a career in the medical field. The takeaway is to treat depression, anxiety, and stress before it gets out of hand, and learn how to juggle between your academic and social life.

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Date of original publication:

Updated: August 26, 2016