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03:10 - Source: CNN

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Co-author says depression is an "open secret" among doctors

Medical students are two to five times more likely to experience depression

CNN  — 

More than a quarter of medical school students report depressive symptoms or depression, while about one in 10 experiences suicidal thoughts, according to a new analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The analysis reviewed nearly 200 studies involving more than 129,000 students in 47 countries.

Depression is “an open secret” in the profession, said Dr. Douglas Mata, co-principle author, a resident physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School.

These calculations are more than just numbers to co-principle author Dr. Srijan Sen.

“When I was a medical student, a couple of people just a little bit older than me really suffered with depression and had serious suicide attempts, and one of them completed suicide,” said Sen, a professor of depression and neurosciences at the University of Michigan. “It hit home to me and made me realize how big a problem this was and was part of the reason why I got involved in this research.”

A worldwide problem

Mata, Sen and their colleagues searched databases for published studies reporting the prevalence of depression in medical students. All the studies but one relied on surveys in which students reported their own symptoms.

“There were several hundred individual studies of smaller groups of students that were out there, but each on its own is not that impactful,” said Mata. “I thought by combining everything and saying, ‘listen, this is a study with over 120,000 people in it; this is something we’re seeing around the world,’ it kind of underscores how serious this is.”

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines “major depressive disorder” based on nine cardinal symptoms to be diagnosed during an in-person interview. Technically speaking, the surveys (which probe for these symptoms in a standardized fashion) cannot diagnose depression, said Mata. But each survey had been validated in prior studies and shown to agree with interview-based diagnoses.