Prevalence of depressive symptoms among Italian medical students: The multicentre cross-sectional "PRIMES" study

PLoS One. 2020 Apr 17;15(4):e0231845. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0231845. eCollection 2020.


Background: Four percent of the world's population suffers from depression, which is a major public health issue. Medical students are at risk, as their depressive symptoms (DS) prevalence is reported to be approximately 27% worldwide. Since few data on Italian medical students exist, this study aimed to estimate their DS prevalence and assess risk and protective factors.

Methods: The PRIMES was a multicentre cross-sectional study performed in 12 Italian medical schools. Questionnaires were self-reported and included 30 sociodemographic items and the Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II). The primary outcome was the presence of DS (BDI-II score≥14). The main analyses were chi-squared tests and multivariable logistic regressions with a p-value<0.05 considered significant.

Results: The number of collected questionnaires was 2,513 (117 BDI-II incomplete). Females accounted for 61.3% of the respondents, and the median age was 22 years (IQR = 4). The prevalence of DS was 29.5%. Specifically, 14.0% had mild depression, 11.1% had moderate depression, and 4.5% had severe depression. The main risk factors for DS were age, being female, bisexual/asexual orientation, living with partner/housemates, poor economic status (worsened by living far from home), less than 90 min of weekly exercise, relatives with psychiatric disorders, personal chronic disease, judging medical school choice negatively, unsatisfying friendships with classmates, competitive and hostile climate among classmates, thinking that medical school hinders specific activities and being worried about not measuring up to the profession. Protective factors included family cohesion, hobbies, intellectual curiosity as a career motivation and no worries about the future.

Conclusion: Italian medical students are at high risk of reporting DS, similar to the global population of medical students'. Medical schools must make efforts to implement preventive and treatment interventions by offering counselling and working on modifiable factors, such as lifestyle and learning climate.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / pathology*
  • Economic Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Schools, Medical
  • Self Report
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.