Feature

Medical students and the issue of suicide


Amanda Lyons 13/11/2017 1:29:54 PM

Australia’s medical student community is experiencing a suicide problem, the President of the Australian Medical Students Association (AMSA) told newsGP.

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The burdens of study often add to the significant workplace stress experienced by medical students.

‘We have seen a bit of a crisis with suicides and attempted suicides in medical school, and a lot of stress, anxiety and burnout,’ AMSA Presdident Robert Thomas said.
 
A cluster of doctor suicides over the past 18 months opened up a much-needed conversation about mental health among medical professionals, leading to a commitment by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to change the mandatory reporting laws nationwide. But similar incidents among medical students have shown that greater support is often needed before graduation.
 
‘Medical students often don’t have very clear reporting pathways when it comes to bullying, and aren’t generally covered by hospital policies [on these matters],’ Thomas said.
 
AMSA is very supportive of the proposed changes to mandatory reporting, but wants to ensure doctors are also assisted at the trainee stage with the specific problems they are likely to face when working in a healthcare environment. For example, students can be especially vulnerable to sexual harassment and bullying.
 
In addition to the workplace, students must also shoulder the stresses of studying itself.
 
‘Students put in a lot of effort and a lot of emotional baggage comes with medical studies, especially when you’re not making any money,’ Thomas said.
 
Another issue for students is increased competition among themselves – for results, for placements, for professional positions.
 
‘The struggle is hard these days, not only for an internship but getting onto a training pathway,’ Thomas said. ‘I think that really adds to students’ stresses and workloads, because everyone’s trying to get that PhD or do that extra research project to stand out from the growing crowd.’
 
Thomas would also like to see mental health education and support built into students’ curriculum. 
 
‘Medical schools should prepare work-ready doctors, and a big part of that includes understanding reporting systems, and also peer-care and self-care,’ he said. ‘There are certain techniques and early warning signals that we should be explicitly taught about, because we are at a very high risk [of mental illness].’
 
AMSA has praise for training institutions that have already implemented measures to help support medical students.
 
‘Some universities have dedicated counselling specifically for medical students, and the feedback I get from students [on that] is incredibly positive,’ Thomas said. ‘Students on clinical placement, rural placement especially, need to be able to have access to appropriate support services that are independent from their academic progression. They shouldn’t have to go to the same person for assessment as they go to for personal support.’


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‘Some universities have dedicated counselling specifically for medical students, and the feedback I get from students [on that] is incredibly positive,’ Thomas said. ‘Students on clinical placement, rural placement especially, need to be able to have access to appropriate support services that are independent from their academic progression. They shouldn’t have to go to the same person for assessment as they go to for personal support.’
This statement is so true. Having been in this position, it feels like there is no where to turn without risking vulnerability, judgement and adverse reflection upon one's ability to thrive as a student and future doctor. Some uni's are better at supporting this position than others. Finances and relationship stresses are huge factors that add to the already stressful medical course load. It often seems that those in the positions of educating, mentoring and training students forget how stressful this time can be. Finances are so tight and partners or families often have no frame of reference for how to support students.
Thank you for this article. Please keep writing about this and advocating for uni's to provide free and accessible support for students at all stages in their study.
15/11/2017 10:45:59 AM

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