Purpose: Although depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation are common in medical students, few programs address this serious problem. The authors developed, and then tested the effectiveness of, an intervention meant to reduce reported depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation.
Method: To reduce the alarming reported rates of depression and suicidal ideation among medical students, the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine implemented the following interventions: increased individual counseling for students, faculty education, and a specialized curriculum including lectures and a student handbook. Although counseling had always been available, a new emphasis was placed on facilitating an anonymous process and providing several options, including volunteer psychiatrists not involved in student education. In 2002 and 2003, the authors measured depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation in third-year medical students using, respectively, the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale and a question about suicidal ideation from the Primary Care Evaluation of Mental Disorders Patient Health Questionnaire.
Results: Before the intervention, 26 medical students (59.1%) had reported depressive symptoms, and 13 (30.2%) reported suicidal ideation. After the intervention, 14 medical students (24.1%) reported depressive symptoms (χ² = 12.84, df = 2, P < .01), and 1 (3%) reported suicidal ideation (χ² = 13.05, df = 1, P < .001).
Conclusions: Programs that provide specific mental health support for medical students may significantly decrease the reported rates of depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation.