Background: Medical education and training can contribute to the development of depressive symptoms that might lead to possible academic and professional consequences. We aimed to investigate the characteristics of depressive symptoms among 481 medical students (79.8% of the total who matriculated).
Methods: The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and cluster analyses were used in order to better describe the characteristics of depressive symptoms. Medical education and training in Brazil is divided into basic (1st and 2nd years), intermediate (3rd and 4th years), and internship (5th and 6th years) periods. The study organized each item from the BDI into the following three clusters: affective, cognitive, and somatic. Statistical analyses were performed using analysis of variance (ANOVA) with post-hoc Tukey corrected for multiple comparisons.
Results: There were 184 (38.2%) students with depressive symptoms (BDI > 9). The internship period resulted in the highest BDI scores in comparison to both the basic (p < .001) and intermediate (p < .001) periods. Affective, cognitive, and somatic clusters were significantly higher in the internship period. An exploratory analysis of possible risk factors showed that females (p = .020) not having a parent who practiced medicine (p = .016), and the internship period (p = .001) were factors for the development of depressive symptoms.
Conclusion: There is a high prevalence towards depressive symptoms among medical students, particularly females, in the internship level, mainly involving the somatic and affective clusters, and not having a parent who practiced medicine. The active assessment of these students in evaluating their depressive symptoms is important in order to prevent the development of co-morbidities and suicide risk.