Depression A Common and Growing Problem Among Medical Residents

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr. Douglas A. Mata, Harvard Medical School

Dr. Douglas A. Mata Harvard Medical School

Douglas A. Mata, M.D., M.P.H.
Anatomic and Clinical Pathology
Resident Physician, Brigham & Women’s Hospital
Clinical Fellow, Harvard Medical School
Boston, MA 02115
Marco A. Ramos, M.Phil., M.S.Ed.
History of Science and Medicine
M.D./Ph.D. Candidate, Yale School of Medicine
New Haven, CT 06511

Medical Research: What is the background for your study?

Dr. Mata: Training to be a doctor is clearly stressful, but the prevalence of depression among trainees is not well known. They may get especially depressed during their grueling years of residency, when young physicians are learning their craft by working long hours and taking care of critically ill patients. Coming up with a reliable estimate of the prevalence of depression among graduate medical trainees would help us identify causes of resident depression and begin to treat or prevent it. We thus aimed to find answers to two questions:

  • First, what percentage of new doctors might be depressed?
  • Second, how much has that changed over time?

Medical Research: What are the main findings?

Dr. Mata: We set out to find every study ever published on this subject. We analyzed 50 years of research on depression in resident physicians. We collected and combined data from 54 studies conducted around the world, and found that a startling 29% of physicians in training have signs of depression. We also detected a small but significant increase in the prevalence of depression over the five decades the study covered.

Mr. Ramos: Twenty-nine percent is a concrete number you can hang your hat on, so to speak. But this number alone doesn’t capture the extent of the problem. We conducted additional studies that revealed that up to 43% of residents have depressive symptoms.

Medical Research: What should clinicians take away from your report?

Dr. Mata: Resident depression is a neglected but vital topic, especially since up to 400 doctors commit suicide every year in the U.S. alone. As clinicians, we’re used to treating others, but we’re often bad at taking care of ourselves. We can spot public health crises in our patients, but haven’t done so enough within our own medical community.

Mr. Ramos: Doctors need to pay more attention to their own mental wellbeing and that of their colleagues. As the data show, the problem isn’t getting any better. Which is surprising, given all the reforms that have been carried out over the years to try to improve the mental health of residents and the health of patients at the same time.

Dr. Mata: Clearly, the ways we promote the mental health of residents haven’t been working—and may be inadequate, given how much depression there is among residents and doctors. We hope that gathering clear evidence that the proportion of new doctors with depression symptoms has increased over time will spur action to address this issue. All doctors should join together in pushing for reform on the depression issue, and as we have previously argued, we should address it as early as medical school.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Mata: Future research should focus attention on factors that adversely affect the mental health of young doctors, so we can come up with evidence-based strategies to identify causes for their depression so we can begin to treat and even prevent it.

Medical Research: Where can readers find out more about your work on this topic?

Dr. Mata: My research articles and editorials are available on my website, and I often post about these issues on Twitter @DouglasMataMD. My co-authors on this study, Dr. Srijan Sen at the University of Michigan and Dr. Constance Guille at the Medical University of South Carolina, also provide information about this topic on their website.

Citation:

Mata DA, Ramos MA, Bansal N, et al. Prevalence of Depression and Depressive Symptoms Among Resident Physicians: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.JAMA. 2015;314(22):2373-2383. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.15845.

Douglas A. Mata, M.D., M.P.H., & Marco A. Ramos, M.Phil., M.S.Ed (2015). Depression A Common and Growing Problem Among Medical Residents 

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