Subjective experience of depressed mood among medical students at the University of Pretoria

21 Jul 2008

INTRODUCTION: Following the suicide of a 4th-year medical student, questions were raised as to whether medical students are more vulnerable to depression and suicide than their counterparts studying other courses at the University of Pretoria. A literature search revealed that medical students and doctors run a higher risk for suicide than other students and professions. METHOD: A questionnaire was devised and distributed to medical students and a control group of other students, asking about feelings of despair / hopelessness, suicide ideation and previous attempts, knowledge regarding support structures provided by the university, and willingness to use these structures. RESULTS: Both groups of students responded similarly to all questions. Frequency of diagnosed psychiatric illness, use of medication, and suicidal thoughts and attempts did not differ significantly. Both groups of students were unaware of support services offered by the university, and both were unwilling to utilise such services. The students seemed to have high rates of depression in comparison with prevalence data from other countries. CONCLUSION: Attempts to improve support for medical students should address students' awareness of available support structures and their willingness to utilise them.