Hi, my name’s Elaine and I’m a third year medical student. First off, let me just say that this isn’t going to be one of those slick and shiny pieces about how important mental health is, with well-organised paragraphs and possibly wanky language. This article is just me saying something I’ve wanted to say for a while, in a very informal way.
Medical students have crappy mental health. That’s pretty much the size of it. We all know from our first year HEP lectures that 28% of final year medical students are burnt out by mid-year*. It rarely ever seems like 28%. Most of the time, we can’t tell when our peers are struggling. This stems from two factors: we don’t want to tell our friends when we’re struggling, and we don’t really want to hear about how our friends are struggling.
We’ve all heard the age old adage about how showing your weaknesses and being vulnerable actually make you stronger. I’m sure we all encourage others around us to do so, but we don’t do so ourselves. Instead, we suppress our stressed out state, along with our insecurities and quirks, for fear that our future colleagues will see us as weak and fragile, or weird.
I can remember countless times when I’ve been asked how I’m going, and my thought process went along the lines of: ‘I could tell them about how I’ve had a crap week, but they may judge me for not being able to cope with my problems. All my problems probably seem insignificant to other people anyways! Plus, what if I have to work with them in the future, or they tell other people in their group? I’ll just say I’m going alright. That’s the safest bet.’ I fear that my friends will view me as incapable and incompetent, especially since it’s so easy to forget that not everyone in medicine is perfect. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way every once in a while.
I’ve also mentioned that we don’t really want to hear about when our friends aren’t doing fine. I don’t mean to say that we’re all monsters who couldn’t care less about the wellbeing of our friends, but it becomes much harder to want to know more about how your friend Dean is behind on study and he’s got a long shift at work tomorrow plus the fact that his girlfriend is going crazy and his mum keeps nagging him about his family dinner, in addition to the fact that he got told off today by a consultant for not knowing something that he really should know but doesn’t because he’s behind on his study (phew), when you’re experiencing a similarly stressful situation. Many of us would much rather not have to deal with someone else’s stress in addition to our own.
You may be wondering what the point of this article is, seeing as how I haven’t yet told you anything you don’t already know. I wrote this to show those who feel like everyone around them is perfect, or has unachievably high standards, that that isn’t true. I believe we all know that, but there are times when it becomes difficult to remember. So here I am, putting my hand up and admitting that I am far from perfect, even though I seem mostly put together on the outside. I have anxiety and self-esteem issues, and these affect my relationships with those around me as well as my academic performance. But despite all this, I know that I am still a completely capable medical student and that I have the capacity to go on and become a great doctor. So I guess the gist of it is, no matter how lowly or flawed you feel sometimes, you have the same capacity too.
* I actually trawled through my first year HEP notes to check this so it’s legitimate.