Today’s post is a break from our series on how to give a medical presentation (see tips 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5)A reader sent me a link to an article on physician and student suicide, and it really affected me. I’d like to draw your attention to the article and ask you to keep your eyes and ears (and hearts) open as you interact with your fellow students (or physicians, if you happen to be “out”).

The article is Physician Suicide 101: Secrets, Lies and Solutions, by Pamela L. Wible, M.D. It is a quick read, and an important one, given the number of medical (and other health-related profession) students and physicians that commit suicide each year. The personal stories and photos (like the one above) are painful, and I saw elements of myself in all of them. They made me want to do something to help – and I think you’ll feel the same way when you read them.

Med school can be a lonely place, and I imagine it is the same for other health-related schools. The hours are looooong, and any semblance of a normal life pretty much disappears for a few years, maybe more, depending on the specialty you choose. The things that normally keep you sane and healthy (interacting with family and friends, exercising, sleeping) tend to diminish, and there is a constant (and justified!) feeling of being judged and evaluated. It feels like you’re in a different world, and nobody – except your classmates, if you’re lucky – understands how exhausting and frustrating this world can be.

The holiday season can make any depression – even a little budding one – seem worse. There are family and other obligations that you won’t be able to fulfill like you would if you were in the normal world. And the constant holiday cheer can sometimes make you aware of the painful gap between the joy of the season and your inner life, which may be pretty bleak.

It is true that things get easier and better after you’re done with school. As someone who made it through and is now “out” (it sounds like incarceration, which in a way, I guess it is), I can attest to this fact. If you are depressed, though, just hearing that from me or others won’t make much of a difference.

Please, if you feel depressed, or scared, or anxious, or if you’re just struggling to keep your shit together, go talk to someone. Preferably someone at school (another student you trust, your student services person, a professor who seems approachable), but if you can’t find anyone, then go see a mental health professional. There is no need to suffer unnecessarily. Medical (and dental and nursing…) school is hard enough without added strain.

And if you are not depressed, good! Please keep your eyes open and notice anyone who seems withdrawn, or who is attending class less and less often. A kind word or gesture can help a person who is down more than you might imagine! We really have to watch out for each other, because the way the system works now, lots of people are falling through the cracks.

The only way we are going to help people who are struggling, and see a decrease in the suicide rate, is by talking about it (see page 7 of the article). There is a stigma about mental illness, and even about being vulnerable in general, and it’s even worse in healthcare fields. This needs to stop.

Bottom line: if you are struggling, you are not alone – and there is help, and hope. If you are not struggling, help someone who is. Reading this article, and becoming better informed, is a good start.