Once you become a medical student your non-medical family and friends often ask you about health problems but your medical student friends rarely ask for help, partly because medical students think they should be able to cope without help.
Recent Australian evidence shows medical students are more likely to suffer from stress and mental health problems, particularly at transition points, for example, into the course and from campus teaching to clinical experiences. Students who are moving from another country or state may also be more vulnerable when they first arrive at medical school. You can help friends or classmates with psychological problems if you know the signs that suggest there is a problem, and if you know what services are available in your medical school, medical board, university and general community, and how to access these services.
The common signs that a student needs help are:
Poor attendance and lack of involvement in university studies
Lack of interest or involvement in other activities
Increased alcohol intake
Major weight change
Believing that everyone is against them
How to help
Make sure you are in a private place
Ask gently if the friend is OK, perhaps saying you are a bit worried about them
Suggest they might get help from their GP or the medical school or campus health services and give them the web link, phone number or address
Do not gossip about another student’s health problems
Provide practical support
If you are really worried and the person seems unwilling to accept that there is a problem then you should discuss the issue with a trusted member of the medical school or campus health service. This is extremely important if the person is suggesting that they might commit suicide or is behaving in a very unusual manner. It is also very important that you try and make sure that you don’t leave such a student alone while you get help for them.
Author Dr Eleanor Flynn
MBBS, B Ed, B Theol, FRACGP, FRACMA
Senior Lecturer in Medical Education
Melbourne Medical School