Survey reveals widespread concerns about the pressures of studying medicine

One in seven medical students has considered suicide during the course of their studies, and one in three has experienced a mental health problem, the findings of a new survey suggest.

Based on responses from more than a thousand medics – two per cent of the UK medical student population – the survey revealed widespread concerns about the pressures of study and the emotional impact of embarking on a medical career.

Previous studies have revealed high rates of depression and anxiety among medical students.

The new survey, conducted by the journal Student BMJ , also found 80 per cent of those who said they had experienced a mental health problem found the help available to them within their university either poor or only “moderately adequate”.

The British Medical Association’s student welfare spokesman said the findings were “shocking”, while the Medical Schools Council (MSC), which has recently issued new guidance for support of medical students with mental health conditions, said it was “crucial” students with concerns about their health felt confident enough to ask for help.


Matthew Billingley, editor of Student BMJ, said that medicine had a reputation as one of the most intensive degrees.

“Only six in 10 applicants manage to get a place at medical school, and students often have a relentless timetable of exams as well as having to balance the emotional strain of seeing sick patients and uphold high professional standards,” he writes.

A survey of the general population in 2007 found that nearly 17 per cent had thought about committing suicide at some time in the course of their lives, while around a quarter are thought to suffer from a mental health problem over the course of a year.

The survey of medical students also found that one in four report binge drinking each week – compared to 18 per cent of all 16 to 24-year-olds – and more than one in 10 said they had taken class A,B or C drugs at least once.

More than eight per cent had taken a legal high, and the same number had used so-called cognitve-enhancing drugs to help with revision ahead of exams.

30 per cent said they had experienced or received treatment for a mental health condition while at medical school, and 15 per cent said they had considered committing suicide during their studies.

Respondents to the survey also reported that an over-competitive environment could have a detrimental effect on students’ health.

One respondent said: “The stigma with mental health issues especially comes into focus when exposed to consultants and tutors who refer to it as a weakness.”

Another said they many [medical students] who suffered with “depression, self-esteem issues and various other problems.

“I am stunned by the amount who take prescription medicine during exam time,” the respondent added.

“The number of students reporting mental illness or considering suicide is shocking,” said Twishaa Sheth, chair of the BMA’s student’s welfare committee.

“What is more concerning is the lack of independent support available for students,” she added.

Iain Cameron, chair of the MSC, says “Medical schools take the mental wellbeing of their students seriously. The Student BMJ survey highlights key issues and similar concerns have been raised previously.

“It is crucial that students who have concerns about their health are able to make this known so that they can be provided with the necessary advice and support.”