Depression during residency might seem surprising since most medical graduates who match into their respective specialties generally seem to be happy and joyful. It appears that they have found the content in their life and consider their years of medical residency auspicious. But is it really true? Well, the statistics state the opposite. According to the data and conclusions are drawn from 31 cross-sectional studies comprising of 9447 medical residents and 23 longitudinal studies (8113 residents), the overall depression prevalence was found out to be 28.8% (4969/17,560 residents). It was also found out that the prevalence of depression increased by 0.5% per calendar year. 

Statistics proving the increasing prevalence of depression among medical residents 

Let us now look at the statistics, which clearly prove that depression must be appropriately managed to provide social health to the residents.  

  • According to a study published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, 75.5% of UAE medical residents were suffering from moderate-to-severe emotional exhaustion, 84% had high depersonalization, and 74% possessed a decreased sense of personal accomplishment. Among these, 83% also reported the symptoms of burnout.
  • Another cross-sectional study has been done with randomly selected 651 medical students and residents of Nepal concluded that the overall prevalence of burnout (48.8%) and anxiety (45.3%) is more than that of depression (31%). It has been reported that most of these are stressed-out due to academic-related factors.

Reasons for Depression During Residency 

There are many possible reasons involved in playing a role in the development of depression in residency. It has been found that the farther residents are into their clinical training years, the depressive rate increases abruptly. The following have been found to be the major causes of depression in resident physicians: 

Long Working Hours 

Depression during residency is highly correlated with sleep deprivation and disturbance, possibly leading to an increased risk of having depressive episodes. Approximately 32% of the healthcare workers reported in a survey that they do not get enough sleep.

Research shows that the residents working under the traditional schedules of recurrent 24-hour shifts make 36% more serious medical errors than those who work in limited hours. These residents also suffer 61% more needle-stick accidents and injuries after 20 consecutive hours of hectic work.

Substantial Student Loan Debt 

Most medical students pay their medical school fees from the loan they borrow from banks and, in turn, get in high debt. This, in the future, leads to depression when the student graduates and sees his/her earning being utilized in paying the debts. A CNBC report claimed that 53% of high debt student loan borrowers experience severe depression. 

Impact of Depression on Medical Residents 

It is not difficult to comprehend the impacts of depression among medical residents. What possibly and likely is to happen if a physician is suffering from severe depression and is still treating a patient? The answer is the negative impact on the work roles causing alternation in treatment approaches and, thus, insecure patient care.  

This, for sure, happens when a depressed physician starts to rely on addictive opioid drugs. Studies show that between 10-15% of all doctors in the United States go through substance abuse during their careers. The rates are highest in hectic and emergency specialties. The ultimate result of depression is a suicide, and research shows that a shocking number (approximately 300) of seriously depressed physicians die by suicide per year, and the rates are increasing.

How to overcome depression? 

What is the use of all this discussion if we do not discuss practical ways of coping with depression during residency? Most of the programs are now increasing awareness among their trainees regarding depression management.  

The following have been regarded as the most efficient in making physicians socially healthy and cheerful. 

  • Awards and Prize Ceremonies 

Most hospitals in the US motivate their efficient and hardworking physicians with awards and prizes to motivate them and make them feel worthy of being doctors. This helps a lot in making physicians socially more active and increasing their sincerity towards their profession. 

  • Participation in pleasant activities or events 

If you’re a physician and reading this, you must know that you are also a human, and you also need to enjoy the cherishing moments of your life. Allow yourself to relax or possibly go on a vacation. 

  • Seek support from your colleagues 

Colleagues are an essential part of your life as they help you out in professional work and emotionally and socially support in various matters. Thus, you should always seek help and support from your colleagues as they know you better. 

  • Exercise 

Most hospitals have now built-in gyms in them for their employees, and if you’re lucky to have a gym in yours, don’t just sit and waste this opportunity. Exercise has always been found to be the best in coping with depression. 

  • Long shifts with naps in between 

Do not let insomnia overwhelm you. If you are doing a long night shift and your hospital provides you an in-between time to relax, utilize it in naps as sleeping a bit would definitely boost up your energy to some extent. 

Conclusion 

Depression during residency is common but avoidable. Depression is a mental disorder that deprives a person of socialness and causes a loss of interest in enjoyable activities. Due to long working hours, hectic life, high debt, and other related factors, medical residents are becoming more and more depressed at an alarming rate. Thus, there is a dire need to manage the situation effectively. Suppose you are a medical resident and going into depression. In that case, there isn’t any need to worry about as your head of department and colleagues would always welcome you in making you lively again. Remember, you are an MD. You have the resources at your availability. Utilize the support systems available at your teaching hospital. You are never alone.