Stressed SA medical students and trainee doctors need help

23 October 2017 - 15:00 By Suthentira Govender
According to a 2010 World Health Organisation report‚ suicide is among the top three causes of death for people aged 15–44 years worldwide‚ and is the second-leading cause of death among university students.
According to a 2010 World Health Organisation report‚ suicide is among the top three causes of death for people aged 15–44 years worldwide‚ and is the second-leading cause of death among university students.
Image: Jasminko Ibrakovic/123RF

The stress of coping with study demands and growing pressure in public health is leading to medical students and trainee doctors suffering mental health issues.

In a bid to help young doctors and medical students cope with the demands of their career and personal challenges‚ the South African Depression and Anxiety Group has launched a 24-hour medical students helpline‚ which is being run in partnership with Discovery Health.

Dr Maurice Goodman‚ chief medical officer of Discovery Health‚ said: "Particularly given the huge shortage of doctors in this country‚ South Africa's significant disease burden‚ and the broader impact of this on our country as a whole‚ it is a national imperative to invest in our future doctors."

According to a 2010 World Health Organisation report‚ suicide is among the top three causes of death for people aged 15–44 years worldwide‚ and is the second-leading cause of death among university students.

South Africa has the eighth-highest rate of suicide in the world‚ and young adults are considered the most at-risk group for depression and suicidal behaviour.

While medical students devote their lives to the science of helping others‚ all too often the stress of insurmountable study demands‚ sleep deprivation‚ the pressure of student loans and social isolation makes campus life a struggle.

Tshegofatso Ubisi‚ head of the Medical Students' Council at the University of the Witwatersrand‚ believes medical students with mental illness have very poor help-seeking behaviour: "Many turn to substance abuse as a way of dealing with whatever stressors and issues they may have."

Zane Wilson‚ director of Sadag‚ warned that if depression is not dealt with‚ it may result in suicide attempts or suicide. "As our medical students are the future of healthcare in South Africa‚ it's imperative we offer counselling and intervention to ease their burdens‚" he said.

Johannesburg psychiatrist Dr Frans Korb believes the new helpline‚ staffed by counsellors trained specifically to help students‚ will help address the problem.

"While most campus student-support facilities are walk-in offices‚ the Medical Students Helpline offers an anonymous‚ all-hours private service to those in need‚" Korb said."This will remove a student's fear of being discriminated against if they have a mental illness or suicidal ideation."

Medical students are more likely to be honest about their symptoms if they don't have to worry about their professors‚ peers‚ patients or medical board finding out.

The dedicated Medical Student Helpline will assist all medical students‚ interns and young doctors with any mental health issue. This 24-hour service provides free telephonic counselling via a toll-free helpline 365 days a year.

  • Contact 0800 323 323 or visit www.sadag.org.
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