To the Medical Students Struggling With Mental Illness in Silence


With 25 percent of medical students being depressed, and only 15 percent of those with depression seeking treatment, it’s easy to feel alone. I, myself, am a medical student who has dealt with anxiety and depression for the past four years. Depression is termed the “open secret” of medicine, and some even believe it to be an essential part of medical training.

This past year, I’ve been completing my clinical rotations at an underserved urban hospital in New York City. The staff is overworked, the patients have several complicated medical and social issues, and the hospital is financially strapped. Even within this high stress environment, I’ve found glimmers of hope and people who have reached out to me with kindness at times when I thought no one cared.

On my obstetrics and gynecology rotation, the panic attacks I had worked so hard to get under control for several years came back. When I walked into the hospital for my 24 hour shift, I couldn’t breathe, I felt my heart pounding, I sobbed uncontrollably and overwhelmingly felt that I just had to get out of there. I was horribly humiliated to have to tell my superiors that I couldn’t function like this and had to go home. I felt weak, like I was a burden on the entire team.

A few days later, my attending physician (senior doctor/course director) took me aside. She told me to focus on my own health first and foremost, and that she understood there is no way to work in an intense work environment without healthy coping mechanisms and support. She told me that “half of us are depressed, and the other half don’t know they’re depressed.” I was astounded that an attending physician, who had no obligation to take a personal interest in me, spoke about mental health with such candor.

The rest of the rotation was challenging, but this attending’s words gave me the courage to go back into therapy and advocate for my own mental health. The words “anxiety” and “depression” weren’t so “Voldemort” sounding anymore.

Now I am at the tail end of my school year and my anxiety and depression are rearing their ugly heads again. This time, I’m not as scared or humiliated to be reaching out for support from my higher-ups, thanks to the encouraging words by the attending that still reverberate in my head.

To the medical students out there who are struggling in silence – we live in a sea of mental illness that no one wants to talk about, out of a misguided sense that talking equals weakness. I myself have fallen prey to this several times. I want you to know, you are not alone by any means. If you see a classmate that seems to be struggling or having an off day, take a moment to talk to them. If you are struggling, take a moment to open up to a trusted friend, family member, or professional mentor. It may bring out a few tears, but tears have the capacity to wash away some of the pain and start the healing process. And what could be more important than healing the healer?

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Wavebreakmedia


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Anxiety

girl mostly in darkness beside city lights

Why We Need to Treat Anxiety Like Any Other Illness

Anxiety isn’t just being nervous for a test. Anxiety can corrupt your life, controlling every aspect. It makes rational things seem irrational, as if there is no way you can let them happen or else horrific consequences will happen. It’s certain — there are no explanations, no reasoning, other than worry overruling everything. It is overthinking every, little, thing, until [...]
A messy bed

Why a Messy Bed Can Ruin My Whole Day

In that moment, when she told me it was ridiculous for me to get upset when my children messed up my bedding, I was hurt. I felt a ping in my chest because I actually do need my bedding to be a certain way on my mattress. When it gets messed up, it irritates me. [...]
blonde woman lying on bed reading book

6 Healthy Ways to Self-Soothe Anxiety

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health disorder or you’re going through a temporary rough patch, anxiety can be absolutely debilitating. Interacting with others becomes an annoying, sweaty, shaky-handed hell. You might have trouble making eye contact, you overthink every word, your throat constricts, you can’t breathe, your ears are ringing and you are terrified you’re [...]
Woman with umbrella walking on the rain in old town

How Catcalling Affects My Mental Health

Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. This literally just happened to me less than an hour ago. And now I’m sitting here writing, processing and trying not to let my mind spiral out of control. I don’t want to [...]