'I wouldn't want it on my CV or their records': medical students' experiences of help-seeking for mental health problems

Carolyn A Chew-Graham, Anne Rogers, Nuha Yassin
Medical Education 2003, 37 (10): 873-80

BACKGROUND: Medical education is reported to be demanding and stressful and previous work with doctors suggests that there is a resistance within the profession to help-seeking and an ad hoc approach to dealing with stress and distress.

AIM: To explore the attitudes of medical students at the University of Manchester, UK to the causes of stress and to examine their views on help-seeking.

STUDY DESIGN: A qualitative study using semistructured interviews, with analysis of the data using the technique of constant comparison.

METHODS: Medical students at the University of Manchester were invited to participate in the study. Sampling made the research representative of medical students in terms of gender, ethnicity and UK/overseas students. Semistructured interviews, with open questions, were conducted and audio-taped with consent. The tapes were transcribed verbatim. The schedule was revised in the light of the emerging themes.

RESULTS: Medical students recognised that studying medicine contributes to stress, as experienced in their undergraduate careers. Students reported that perceptions of stigma associated with mental illness, including stress, were prevalent in the student body and were perceived to continue throughout the medical profession. Avoidance of appropriate help-seeking behaviour starts early and is linked to perceived norms which dictate that experiencing a mental health problem may be viewed as a form of weakness and has implications for subsequent successful career progression.

CONCLUSION: The preparation of medical students for life as doctors involves more than facilitation of the acquisition of knowledge and skills, so that new doctors can conform to the principals of professional conduct. Support and mentoring are required so that stress can be identified early and dealt with appropriately.

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