Mental health in medical and biomedical doctoral students during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and racial protests

Elife. 2022 Sep 6;11:e69960. doi: 10.7554/eLife.69960.


Concerns about the mental health of students, trainees and staff at universities and medical schools have been growing for many years. Recently, these have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and a period of heightened reckoning and protests about systemic racism in the United States in 2020. To better understand the mental health of medical students and biomedical doctoral students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during this challenging period, we performed a cross-sectional study (n=957) using institutional annual survey data on measures of depression, anxiety, hazardous alcohol use, problems related to substance use, and suicidal ideation. These data were collected in 2019 and 2020, and were analyzed by type of training program, race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and survey year. Results indicated significant differences for rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, with biomedical doctoral students showing greater incidence than medical students, and historically excluded students (e.g., people of color, women, LGBQ+ trainees) showing greater incidence compared to their peers. Of note, mental health remained poor for biomedical doctoral students in 2020 and declined for those belonging to historically excluded populations. The high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation reported suggest that training environments need to be improved and support for mental health increased.

Keywords: equality diversity; graduate students; inclusion; medical students; mental health; none; training environment; wellbeing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / psychology
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Pandemics
  • Students, Medical* / psychology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Universities