Primum non nocere, “First, do no harm,” acts as the moral compass that aids the transition from student doctor to practicing physician. Despite improvements in medical education such as maximum working-hour caps or access to on-site psychiatrists, medical students are overwhelmed by the curriculum and have difficulty asking for help. In 2016, a meta-analysis demonstrated a 27.2% depression prevalence among medical students, which is approximately three times higher than comparative age groups in the general population. However, only 15.7% of medical students seek help for mental health symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts.
Despite surveys stating that students are at their reported “happiest” prior to beginning medical school, the medical student suicide rate has increased in recent years. Mental health issues are prevalent in all of the medical professions, yet it seems these professionals are less likely to seek treatment than individuals not in the healthcare field. At what point did a field dedicated to providing care become so demanding that our own healers lost the ability to care for themselves?
LSUHSC-Shreveport will be spearheading it’s first Mental Health Awareness Week February 19-23, 2018 with the goal of raising awareness of mental health issues among not only medical students but all healthcare providers.
Katy Wagner, third-year medical student and Executive Council President, states, “Mental Health Awareness Week accomplishes many of our goals—reaching the student body in an impactful way, sharing the resources that we have available and encouraging self-care.”
The week’s events will begin with an art display designed by Amber McKenna, a second-year medical student, which will include 100 stethoscopes, 100 prescription vials, 100 syringes, and 100 pairs of gloves to represent the 400 physicians lost to suicide each year. The school will also host a talk on mindfulness and meditation with Allen Barnes, MD, and Elyse Bradley, PhD, as well as a meditation session led by Daniel Core, a second-year medical student.
Core shared his motivation to join this initiative because the “emotional and psychological suffering does not stop in the brains of healthcare workers. Stressed out, depressed, burned out doctors can’t hide their internal struggles, not perfectly at least. It will be transmitted through impatience, short tempters, clearly feigned attempts at compassionate listening and suboptimal care for patients.” Other events during the week include a discussion on physician burnout by Candice Weiner-Johnson, MD, and an informational meeting regarding mental health resources on our campus and within our medical community.
The keynote speaker will be Pamela Wible, MD, a nationally recognized activist on physician and medical student suicide. She will host a “town hall” with medical students to discuss mental health issues and brainstorm how to formulate the ideal support system as well as address the stigma regarding mental illness in the medical profession. This will be followed by a screening of the trailer of “Do No Harm.”
Elliott Thompson, third-year medical student and Executive Council Vice President, states, “It was important that we create an event-driven and organized by the students that could be hosted annually and serve to benefit students, residents, administration, and staff.” He hopes that this event, a worthwhile cause of raising awareness of mental health within the healthcare community, will continue in the future and serve as an example for other higher education institutions. With time, it is the hope of Executive Council that primum non nocere will become a principle that medical institutions not only teach but also exemplify.