Better support systems needed to counter depression among medical residents

The need to address depression among medical residents and hospital staff members remains real and urgent, according to a study published in Academic Medicine in which 35 percent of medical interns screened positive for clinically significant depression.

Young physicians are particularly susceptible to depression and suicide, in part because they tend to be reticent to discuss mental health issues, a scenario which puts both patients and physicians at risk, as FiercePracticeManagement has previously reported.

Some hospitals have already begun to make moves to address the issue, according to an article in STAT. For example, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the University of Michigan Health System both are developing programs to make psychiatric help more available to residents, while Georgetown University Medical Center uses retreats and group sessions to encourage wellness practices and to counter feelings of isolation common among residents.

Douglas Mata, M.D., a lead researcher on the study and a resident at Brigham and Women's Hospital, suggests increased patient contact as one way of reducing depression risk. He cited survey responses indicating depressed physicians were spending up to 60 percent of their time dealing with administrative tasks and less than 10 percent of their time interacting with patients.

With the problem both identified and better quantified, the next step is to develop a support structure that responds to the unique needs of residents, per the article. Dr. Peter Ureste, a resident at LAC+USC Medical Center told STAT the current lack of support infrastructure makes it impossible to screen for depressed or suicidal physicians. "If we find them, we wouldn't have anything for them," he said.

To learn more:
- here's the study
- read the article