Getting support when you need it is a critical part of mitigating the effects of stress and developing well-being. Developing a supportive social network is one of the most important things you can do to remain resilient during your medical training. Peers, including students who are one stage ahead of you, can help prepare you for what is to come. Seeking professional help from school programs or mental health care are also important.
Seeking Support from School Programs or Counseling
Rising 4th-year medical students in our focus group recommended taking advantage of existing systems of support in the schools. Nearly all medical schools have a support system for students including some form of counseling and some sort of peer support, such as the pairing of senior students with new students or groups of students meeting with an attending to discuss issues for which they need support. Many students will be feeling the pressures and stresses that you feel.
For school counseling, consider that medical schools have trained many students and understand the stresses you face as a medical student and often have someone you can stop in to chat with at least briefly. They typically have processes in place to help out students who are struggling or who need more formal mental health support.
Tip: If you are struggling to keep up in academics, consider asking for extensions of deadlines.
Medical students in our focus groups rated peer support as one of the most important factors in maintaining their well-being in medical school. They valued having someone who appreciates and understands the stresses that they face and sometimes offers useful advice. Much of this support happens informally. Getting support from a more senior student can be very helpful since they can help prepare you and warn you about what is to come in your training.
Interactive Case and Module: See our interactive cases and module on Medical Student Peer Support on this website.
Tip: See some non-medical friends periodically to take a break from school and medicine. Remember, you will be seeing patients from all walks of life, so maintain your social skills for talking with people outside of the medical profession.
- Example of a peer support program for medical students: David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA Peer Mentoring.
Mental Health Care – Benefits and Misconceptions
It may not even occur to some people that getting some counseling might help. Other people find it difficult to get mental health care for a variety of reasons, including misconceptions.
- Reasons an individual might seek help:
- learning to develop new coping skills
- improving our ability to tolerate difficult emotions, such as intense guilt, sadness, or anxiety
- helping with the mourning of a loss
- Lessons based on common misconceptions about mental health care:
- Getting help is being responsible and healthy. You may get and use a positive coping skill and benefit not only yourself but those you work with and the organization. Y
- You do not have to be mentally ill or even wait until you are suffering a lot to get help.
- Most insurance covers mental health with copays ranging from 0 to $30. You may also find a professional who uses a sliding scale.
- If you are concerned about time, consider that if you are feeling better, you may become more efficient in dealing with difficult matters. Getting focused limited care of just a few sessions is sometimes sufficient.
- Mental health professionals are not allowed to reveal anything about your care to your employer and your employer should not have access to mental health notes in your record.
- Even highly independent, capable people sometimes benefit from getting help from others. Think of it as adding skills rather than giving up control.
Source: Common Misconceptions about Mental Health Care – Resource from Mt. Sinai Medical Center, NY., written to encourage healthcare professionals to seek mental health care when appropriate.
Mental Health Resource: Mental Health of America
This non-profit offers multiple mental health screening tests you can use to screen yourself for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health conditions. It also offers information on these conditions,
Other Resources for Mental Health Treatment:
- Find a Psychiatrist – American Psychiatric Association
- Find a Therapist – Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Find Help & Treatment – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- Find Mental Health Help – Mental Health America
- Help for Mental Illness – National Institute of Mental Health
- Local Mental Health Resources – TWOLHA non-profit Resources by Mental Help Topic
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255)
- Psychology Help Center (800-374-2721) – American Psychology Association
- Crisis Text Line – Free 24 x 7 support