It’s no secret that medical school is difficult and often stressful. School assignments, combined with patient care and family responsibilities, can create a pressure-filled environment. Some students battle depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues due to the rigors of medical school.
In the last few decades, we’ve learned that keeping quiet about mental health concerns isn’t helpful or healthy. It’s time that medical students take the same advice they’d give to patients or family members – don’t be afraid to ask for help. After all, you’re human too.
Understanding the Stigma of Asking for Help
The stigma around seeking help in medical education is deeply ingrained, rooted in the idea that admitting mental health (or learning) struggles is a sign of weakness. The fear of judgment from peers, faculty, and even yourself leads to a culture of silence. Many medical students believe that seeking assistance is an admission of incompetence, and this further perpetuates the stigma.
It takes a brave student to seek help, but it’s often an important and necessary step for completing medical school.
Seeking Help for Learning Disabilities
While this article begins by addressing the stigma of mental health, students with learning disabilities often try to hide their struggles as well. (Also note, not acknowledging learning disabilities may lead to mental health issues. Constant feelings of “never being prepared” or “always trying to catch up,” which are often reported by students with learning disabilities, should not be ignored.)
To seek help for a learning disability, you must ask for accommodations through the disability resource office at your medical school. Names vary for this office across college campuses so check your school’s handbook and website for phrases like “students with disabilities” and “learning accommodations” to determine what your school calls this office. And unlike in elementary and high schools, the responsibility in college falls to the student to notify the school of a disability and need for accommodations (through the disability resource office).
Going through this process and not simply relying on the good graces of a professor or dean is critical! Too often, students have an informal agreement for accommodations with a professor, but when an issue develops, the accommodations were never formally approved by the disability office, which severely limits your legal protections.
(See this article about the Americans with Disabilities Act and your rights for more information on reasonable learning accommodations.)
Why Getting Help is Important
It’s easy to understand why medical students attempt to hide learning struggles or don’t seek help for mental health issues. You’re embarrassed. You’re afraid people will question your ability as a medical professional. You’re worried about disappointing others. These are all common reasons given by students, and they’re valid ones.
But what most students overlook are the positive outcomes for getting help. We’ve listed a few below.
– Less (to no) anxiety of “being caught” or “being found out”
– More enjoyable school experience
– Better relationships with professors and fellow students
– More confident when given assignments and during clinicals
– Higher test grades
– Greater priority on self-care, such as a better diet, more consistent exercise routine, and intentional rest
While we can’t make you seek help, we can strongly encourage it. And the list above shows why it’s important.
If you’re concerned with your mental health, the Physician Support Line at 1-888-409-0141 is a great resource for medical students. The hotline is open Monday through Friday, 8 am to midnight ET and is run by a team of volunteer psychiatrists passionate about helping medical professionals get the help they need and deserve.
The Education Litigation Group Wants the Best for You
We’re a law firm focused on helping medical students. We see too many times what the toll of medical school does to a student, especially when a learning disability or mental health issue goes unaddressed.
Medicine is a noble profession so it’s critical that you’re reminded – you’re a human too. You, like your patients and family, have the right to seek help and to work toward a less stressful life.
If we can help with a legal matter pertaining to your medical education, use our contact form to reach out.