Pre-med depression: What is it?

In this blog we will discuss pre-med depression.

We will also discuss what causes pre-med depression, and what pre-med` student’s do to cope with depression. 

pre-med depression: What is it?

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Pre-med depression refers to depression that most pre-med students experience during their training period.

Pre-med depression is often experienced by medical students owing to its highly competitive nature and mountain of workload that the students have to undertake starting from the pre-medical level.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a leading publication used for diagnosis of mental disorders by mental health professionals, Major depressive disorder or depression is a serious mood disorder.

Depression is a  serious mood disorder where people affected by it experience persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. 

Apart from these emotional distress, people with depression can also experience physical symptoms such as chronic pain, or changes in their behaviour such as social withdrawal or slowed movements.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • fatigue or lack of energy
  • feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or self-hate
  • social isolation
  • a loss of interest in activities and hobbies
  • that used to be pleasurable
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • dramatic changes in appetite along with
  • corresponding weight gain or loss
  • suicidal thoughts or behaviors

The effect that the training period of medical students has on their mental health leads to a lot of self-doubt, dislike towards the course and it mentally drains them. 

In 2021, a study to understand the prevalence of depressive disorder and it correlates with the quality of life of medical students who are studying in a medical college of North India. 

The study found that 36.7% of the students were found to be depressed and it negatively affected all domains of their life as well as led to significantly poor quality of life. 

Much of what causes depression amongst pre-med students tend to be due to stress, burnout, and self doubt. 

What causes depression in pre-med students?

Some of the causes of depression in premedical students are as follows:

High levels of stress

Depression has many possible causes. One of them being chronic stressful life situations  that can increase the risk of developing depression.

Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to situations in your life. It is neither a bad thing or a good thing. However what is dangerous is continuous or chronic stress in your life that you are unable to handle. 

Depression can be caused when you are unable to cope with the stress in your life because stress has a variety of mental and behavioural symptoms. These symptoms include: insomnia,  trouble sleeping, excessive sleep, and changes in appetite and eating habits. 

Being in a state of continuous stress with these symptoms can lead to deteriorating health, continued low moods, decrease in productivity which can impact your occupational life and also cause strain in your relationships. 

These negative impacts can lead to feelings of hopelessness, dread, doom, and also feelings of worthlessness and the sense that one is a failure in their ability to cope with life all of which can be internalised, leading to developing depression and anxiety. 

The highly competitive nature of the course at the premedical level and worry about whether they will be able to beat the competition during admissions for entering medical school. They tend to work even harder in order to stand out and ensure that they will excel.

Due to the heavy workload, assignments and never-ending syllabus, the students find it difficult to take out time for themselves. The students are not able to take our time for any other activities our hobbies that make them happy and act as a breather for them.

Stigma

When a student is depressed, they refuse to seek help due to the stigma and they go through their troubles and tribulations without any help from an expert or therapist, which is unhealthy for their mental health and general health.

This sort of attitude makes people buy into the idea that mental illness can be done away with if you simply try hard enough. This perpetuates the idea that people who suffer from depression lack willpower or strength.

Burn out

One of the main reasons for depression is burnout anxiety and chronic fatigue that the students face due to the highly competitive and suffocating environment

Due to the heavy workload, assignments and never-ending syllabus, the students find it difficult to take out time for themselves. The students are not able to take our time for any other activities or hobbies that make them happy and act as a breather for them. This can lead to burn out and emotional fatigue..

Self doubt

Some students struggle with low self esteem which causes one to self-doubt, anxiety leading to worry and stress, depression due to a deep sense of worthlessness and low self esteem, as well as fears related to perfectionism leading to negative rumination.

Over-thinking is not a mental disorder however it is closely related to mental disorders- it can either be a symptom of a mental disorder or it can also be one of the causes of mental disorders when negative rumination is done mindlessly. People who overthink about themselves tend to struggle with anxiety as well as depression. 

How to cope with depression for pre-med students?

Some of the ways by which pre-med students can cope with their depression are as follows:

Depression is a serious mental health condition where a person who is affected by it experiences persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. 

Clinical depression can make it very difficult for the individual to carry out their day to day tasks, maintain their relationships, and manage their occupational responsibilities. 

Here are some of the things that you can do if you have been struggling with crippling depression

Reach out for help

If you find yourself struggling with depression and loneliness, we urge you to seek support from a professional immediately. 

Here are a few resources form the NHS that you can make use of if you are suicidal, depressed, or engageing in self harm. 

  • Call 116 123 to talk to Samaritans, or email: [email protected] for a reply within 24 hours
  • Text “SHOUT” to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line, or text “YM” if you’re under 19
  • If you’re under 19, you can also call 0800 1111 to talk to Childline. The number will not appear on your phone bill.
  • Self Injury Support webchat (for women and girls) is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 7pm to 9.30pm
  • CALM webchat (for men) is open from 5pm to midnight every day

You can also reach out to your local medical service providers or a mental health service provider. 

If you are hesitant about reaching out for help, speak to a trusted friend or adult about what you are going through.

Do not hesitate to make use of resources provided to seek out professional support.

Seek out  professional help

Depression is not just low moods, it won’t simply “go away”. There needs to be an active effort to work through your condition as well as pharmacological support that you might need in the case there are neurological causes to your condition. 

Talking to a therapist and engaging with them to understand what is happening to you does not mean that you have failed in life. It simply means that you need help like everyone else and that does not make you any less of a person. 

Your therapist will help you understand what is happening to you, might prescribe you medication if needed, and can help you tap into your own strengths that can help you adapt to challenges, changes, and overcome them.

Actively seek positive experiences

According to positive psychology research, positive feelings are an important aspect of well-being. For a person to engage in activities and other experiences that help them feel positive feelings such as love, belongingness, achievement, and a sense of hope is important.

This could be as simple as watching a movie, petting your cat, taking your dog for a walk, eating ice cream. Do what makes you happy without judging yourself for these choices.

Focus on self-care

Taking care of your physical needs is very important as it is a way to care for yourself. Taking care of your emotional needs is also important and you can work towards emotional self care after taking care of your physical needs first. 

Connect with loved ones and let them provide you company when you do not want to be alone- take effort to reach out to them. 

Allow yourself to feel loved by people who genuinely care for you and seek out new meaning from these positive and healthy relationships. 

You can choose to make new changes that help you feel better or healthier like going to the gym, changing your diet to a more healthy one, going for wants. Sometimes change in routines can also be your way of caring for yourself. 

Join a support group

Another thing you can do for yourself is to join a support group of people struggling with depression so that you can experience emotional support first hand within these communities and over time learn how to manage your challenges by learning from each other. 

By joining a group that is open, empathetic, and growing towards healing, you and your experiences can be an excellent sense of support to someone else who is also in their early part of their journey. 

Conclusion

In this blog we have discussed pre-med depression.

We also discused what causes pre-med depression, and what pre-med` student’s do to cope with depression. 

FAQ related to Premed depression

Can you be a doctor with depression?

Yes, you can be a doctor with depression. Students with a history of mental illness can certainly become physicians provided that they get the right help. 

Do medical students get depressed?

Yes, medical students are highly susceptible to depression owing to its highly competitive nature and mountain of workload that the students have to undertake starting from the pre-medical level.

Can I be a doctor with anxiety?

Yes, you can be a doctor with anxiety provided you get the treatment you need and work towards coping and managing the disorder. 

References

Solanki, H. K. ., Awasthi, S. ., Kaur, A. ., & Pamei, G. . (2021). Depression, its correlates and quality of life of undergraduate medical students in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand state, India. Indian Journal of Community Health, 33(2), 357–363. https://doi.org/10.47203/IJCH.2021.v33i02.023

Chelsea Troutman. ‘The Pre-Med Mental Health Crisis’. AMSA. Retrieved on 23rd April 2022. https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~amsa/2020/03/30/the-pre-med-mental-health-crisis/

‘Why is depression so prevalent in medical school?’  AMSA. Retrieved on 23rd April 2022https://www.amsa.org/why-is-depression-so-prevalent-in-medical-school/

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