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As medical professionals, suicide is something most of us will probably have to deal with, yet it is something that is often brushed under the carpet. This is either because it is hard to talk about among ourselves, or for universities it is deemed a reputational risk. But we need to talk about it!
Recently, there have been reports from universities of medical students committing suicide. This news is upsetting and hard to comprehend, something that as a medical student we’re not taught about, so left unsure about how to deal with. We succumb to the fact that death is something we will witness during our time at medical school as it’s a part of life.
Life is so precious, and we all know can be cut short for some, so we try to make the most of our time here. We certainly don’t expect one of our own, a part of our new family at university, to die of unnatural causes, when we’re taught and aspire to help others. It’s something most of us will have answered in our interviews for medical school, ‘so why do you want to study medicine?’. Yet, how can we help others if we aren’t taking care of ourselves?
A crucial aspect of the welfare agenda, is that many university pastoral services are very good but they are available at times when our timetables will not enable us to utilise them. This leads to many medical students either foregoing their wellbeing or their studies. Medical schools do try their best to help but like most services these days they aren’t well-funded or are just not particularly engaging. I’ve spoken to several organisations about developing a medic-specific resource to combat this issue. The way forward could be to reach out to medical students to develop a platform for them to share their experiences confidentially via an online portal which also shares best practice ideas for self-help and signposts where to go for help. The BMA has a number of support mechanisms that can be accessed for counselling or advice and support on a case-by-case basis. There is also the joyful doctor resource which contains a dedicated section specific to medical students in one place. I hope you have not been affected by the content of this blog but I could not sit in silence. This is a real issue, so please take care of yourselves and look out for the friends around you. We need to stick together when the unthinkable happens so that nobody is left suffering in silence.
Gurdas Singh is Deputy Chair (Welfare) of the BMA Medical Students Committee
I do wonder if the admissions process exacerbates the mental health problems of medical students. To earn a place at medical school, you have to almost devote your life to medicine. Then if something happens to compromise that i.e. you fail exams, you don't enjoy it as much as you thought, you feel under too much pressure etc. then you lose what had defined your 'life purpose' up until that point. That's a hard thing to lose for anyone, but not many people would be in that position at such a young age.
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the 'reputational risk' point is a big one, and in my opinion, is what leads universities in their attempts to help students - to minimise reputational risk, rather than take care of their students. This is why resources don't align with needs.