Context: Physicians show an increased prevalence of mental health problems, the first postgraduate years being particularly stressful.
Objectives: To study the prevalence of mental health problems during the fourth postgraduate year, and to investigate whether it is already possible to predict such problems at medical school.
Subjects: A cohort of medical students (n=396) from all Norwegian universities, who were approached in their graduating semester (baseline) and in their fourth postgraduate year.
Methods: A nationwide and longitudinal postal questionnaire survey, including measures of perceived mental health problems in need of treatment, personality, perceived stress and skills, and ways of coping. Data were analysed using logistic regression.
Results: Mental health problems in need of treatment during the fourth postgraduate year were reported by 17.2% (n=66), with no gender difference, possibly because of a higher prevalence among the men compared with the general population. A majority had not sought help. Univariate medical school predictors of mental health problems included: previous mental health problems; not being married/cohabitant; the personality traits 'vulnerability' (or neuroticism) and 'reality weakness'; perceived medical school stress, and lack of perceived diagnostic skills. In addition, the coping variables avoidance, blamed self and wishful thinking were univariate predictors. Multivariate analysis identified the following adjusted predictors: previous mental health problems; 'intensity' (extraversion); perceived medical school stress, and wishful thinking. Medical school variables were inadequate for predicting which individual students would experience postgraduate mental health deterioration. However, the perceived medical school stress instrument may be used for selecting a subgroup of students suitable for group-oriented interventions.