OpEd: Why Mental Health is a Necessity For Future Doctors Too
By Sophia Shukla, '24
Community Health student Sophia Shukla explains the need for mental health support during pre-med courses.
While doctors have been long sought after for many generations, the process of acquiring this prestigious medical degree is both physically and mentally strenuous. The journey begins during one’s collegiate years by taking the required “pre-med” classes and participating in activities that will benefit themselves and their resumes. While the “pre-med” classes are supposed to prepare one for the rigor of medical school, there are numerous expectations, pressures from classmates, and a competitive nature surrounding classes that often leads to stress-induced burnout. It is widely believed and joked about that this is the way people are weeded out from the pre-med curriculum. For example, one study found a drop rate of 1 out of every 2 students for an infamous weed out class, organic chemistry. A solution to cure this dilemma of high stress levels is to incorporate mental health days into these core classes in order to decrease the rates of burnout and exhaustion.
At the expense of one’s mental health, one can accomplish all of the presumed necessities to get into medical school. One study concluded how premedical students have higher rates of emotional exhaustion, compared to other students, which has a direct linkage to causing burnout. Feelings of burnout have a strong correlation to alcoholism and mental health issues. A Kaplan study found 50% of pre-med students suffering from “self medicating” through alcohol and drugs and 71% experiencing stress either always or pretty frequently. Constant stress has cascading effects on health, especially long term, as it can give rise to anxiety, depression, and issues with internal organs. A study done in the National Library of Medicine indicates that pre-med students had a 4.8% severely depressed rate, while non pre-med students had an 2.5% severely depressed rate, meaning that being pre-med almost doubled a person’s chances of being severely depressed during college. Students run themselves into the ground in order to just get into medical school.
A plethora of studies have been done on how the human body, especially the brain, responds to stress since stress is prevalent in all aspects of life. Stress is known to cause the brain to not function properly or adequately, leading to issues with memory cognition and learning, according to a study done at Touro. Especially when constant, stress can lead to major health problems, like diabetes and issues with the heart. In order to lead a genuinely healthy life, one needs to get rid of as much stress as possible.
While medical school admissions are always going to be competitive and stress-provoking, a way to combat this is to encourage professors to incorporate mental health days to the typical pre-med core classes. While this might just be a day or two off throughout the semester, it will allow students time to recuperate and refocus on their studies or take time to physically and mentally rest, which are crucial to both learning and retaining new material. Taking time off helps the body and mind heal, according to psychologist Kathryn Isham. Subsequently, students are able to enjoy more time with their friends and family, which decreases stress and burnout rates since the mind is not constantly occupied by the stress hormones. Finally, learning how to tackle one’s own self care is a recipe for success as it enables a person to learn what gives them comfort, so when it comes time for medical school, they know how to study efficiently and take time off in order to avoid burnout.
The idea of mental health days became more popular after the Covid-19 pandemic, especially for children and working adults. A study found that 77% of parents who allowed their children to have a mental health day thought it had a positive impact since it gave them time to relax, talk, or spend time doing activities they enjoyed. In addition to this, 78% of adults felt that having a mental health day improved their performance when they got back to work. If we are integrating these days into elementary schools and working life, they need to be available for young adults, especially pre-med students, as well.
We need to support students by incorporating mental health days into the pre-med courses to counteract the constant stress levels and encourage relaxation for the brain. A student should not have to always sacrifice one of the supposed best times of one’s life, college, in order to pass their classes. As long as a student is working hard towards their passion, they will know if medical school is for them. At the end of the day, a person’s mental health is way more important than the grades they received in a class. Providing time to relax the mind will not only encourage better mental health ideals but will also increase grades, which is the key to success for any professional school.