Doctors are humans too: the benefits of embracing your mental status

Vytenis Andriukaitis Health Europe 2017

Vytenis Andriukaitis, Member of the EC in charge of Health and Food Safety, participates in the Ministerial Conference on the follow up to the fipronil incident. Date: 26/09/2017 Reference: P-035227/00-19 Location: Brussels – EC/Berlaymont. © European Union , 2017 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service / Photo: Dario Pignatelli.

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms Stavroula Papaeleftheriou, a 6th year medical  student at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy Gr. T. Popa, in Iasi, Romania. Ms Papaeleftheriou is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA). However, the opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

It was the beginning of December 2015, when an article was published by Dr. Douglas Mata, stating that 25% of medical students are depressed and suicidal. Such an article gives hopes to medical professionals, by breaking the stigma that mental disorders exist among medical students and doctors.

As a medical student one is expected to be stressed over the extensive materials that need to be memorised and understand in order to fulfill a lifelong dream and become an excellent physician. The pre-clinical years are fascinating and individuals fall in love with the idea that in the near future theory learnt will become reality. At the same time one keeps in mind words of older colleagues saying that the upcoming years are easier.

Months pass by studying the same subjects until you can finally start clinics. The thought of using the stethoscope that was bought at the beginning of starting medical school brings joy, to be able to practice clinical examination from Macleod’s videos are what every medical student has been waiting for. Until the stress kicks in, an annoying friend since early childhood, suddenly becoming a fiery demon, provoking abnormal thoughts during the day and night. When it’s finally time to wake up, you find yourself snoozing your alarm and thinking of skipping the day at the hospital because you feel unprepared in taking an anamnesis and analysing the paraclinical tests. After a long battle, you find the strength to stand up from bed and go to the hospital. There, patients and the hospital routine makes you feel better but the snide remarks and competitive atmosphere from other colleagues switches your mood again. Days go by in the same way, a repetitive, vicious cycle until the right decision of getting some professional help is made in hopes to achieve control.

Something amazing happens when you find yourself being part of a medical society where you can speak about yourself, including your mental issues, without being judged. Surprisingly, you realize that you are not alone and more people are struggling with the similar disorders. It feels like a home away from home, since no one understood you better before. In the past, talks with family members didn’t end up where you wanted and the feedback of “ get better you are going to be a doctor”, “it’s such stress” etc. didn’t truly help.

To sum up, I think medical disorders among medical students have always existed; there have been suicides among students and doctors but many were ignored when they shouldn’t have been.

As doctors and future physicians we should embrace the fact that Mental Health among medical professionals can be altered and open ourselves about it. It’s time to break some taboos!

And NO, Mrs. Professor I didn’t skipped my exam because I was feeling depressed because I was missing the Mediterranean sun from my homeland.

About the author

Stavroula Papaeleftheriou is a 22 years old, sixth year Medical Student in the University of Medicine and Pharmacy Gr. T. Popa, in Iasi, Romania. Originally coming from the greek island, of Lesbos. Due to personal reasons, she decided to migrate to Romania to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor.The past years she has been volunteering on different Societies of my university, as SSMI (Medical Student Society of Iasi), SSCR (Romanian Surgical Student Society), IMJS (International Medical Journal Society).

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