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April 25, 2018

Why this medical student is opening up about his secret battle with depression—and wants others to do the same

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This story was updated on April 26, 2018.

    After dealing with his own bouts of depression, Michael Rose, a medical student who's pursing a master's at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, decided to share his story in the New England Journal of Medicine—and now he's calling on other medical professionals to do the same.

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    Rose's story

    Rose writes that during his second year as a medical student, he began to notice a change in his mood and activity levels. According to Rose, during his first year in school, he would read before going to bed, exercise on the weekends, and could "lock in while studying." But during his second year, he often couldn't stay awake beyond 9:30 p.m., he wasn't exercising, and he couldn't stop daydreaming—sometimes about "how much easier it would be if everything would end."

    After months of denial, Rose writes that he eventually went to a residency clinic seeking treatment for depression and began medication and therapy. "The therapy gave me tools to break the negative thought cycles that drive depression, and the medications made it easier for the therapy to succeed," he writes. Eventually, Rose writes he began feeling more like his old self. "I wasn't cured, but I was managing," he writes.

    The stigma around depression among medical professionals

    Rose writes that he's increasingly learned that, when it comes to depression, he's "far from alone, especially within medicine." However, he notes that the condition is "deeply stigmatized … both professionally and personally." In fact, Rose writes, while more than 25% of medical students and residents experience depression, and over 10% have contemplated suicide, just over half of medical students grappling with depression seek treatment.

    Rose writes that, in many cases, medical professionals do not seek treatment for or speak out about depression because they're afraid doing so could hurt them professionally. "Medical students like me worry about how residency directors will view our applications," he writes, adding that almost 40% of physicians have reported that they'd be hesitant to seek mental health treatment out of concerns about potential repercussions for their medical licenses. This hesitance is partly due to "licensure questions that are unnecessarily broad, inquiring about any history of mental illness instead of focusing on current physical and mental health fitness to practice," Rose writes.

    The key to fighting this stigma lies "with individuals and our willingness to share personal stories—and not a few, but many," Rose writes. If medical professionals who have experienced depression share their stories, "we can begin to shatter the stigma and silence that surrounds mental illness for our profession, for our patients, and for ourselves," Rose writes (Rose, New England Journal of Medicine, 3/22).

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