Depression in Student Healthcare Professionals

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Stress for a little while can be a good thing. It can actually help you get your bearings together. But, stress for a couple of months straight or even a couple of years can be detrimental to your health; it feels like you are always in a constant battle with stress in pharmacy school. I’m sure stress is getting the other health professional students too. Stress is not something small to play with. They don’t call it a silent killer for nothing.

The stress starts small. It begins with trying to get into a program. These health professional programs can be very competitive to the point of almost life and death. Then, once you get it, the stress begins to escalate. You are still trying to keep up with requirements in order to remain in the program. For me, that is doing service learning hours, being a part of at least one organization and keeping a decent GPA. That is the bare minimum.

However, if you want to be the best candidate for a fellowship or residency, you have to go above and beyond. Many of your competitors will have internships, jobs, research experience, multiple leadership positions in different organizations, a great GPA and networks. How do you distinguish yourself from these people who have made extraordinary the norm for applying for a job, a fellowship, or a residency?

So, your stress continues to grow. This time its like a shadow looming over everything that you do. How can I be more competitive? We begin to do things, not for our own enjoyment but, rather to become a better applicant for a future job. When you are not genuinely interested in all these things, you start to feel like your whole life is a chore. I have to do this, this and this. This happens until you experience burn-out.

You burn out and you crash but, you keep going. There is not enough time to relax or analyze your feelings. You put you your feelings on the back-burner and start to depersonalize yourself. You start acting like a robot even though you are a human and you are meant to take rests. You are menat to feel. But, there is the constant pressure of falling behind because no one else seems to be taking a break. Sleep is an afterthought. So all that stress builds up. Cortisol builds up. Your immune system gets weak. You get sick; you take medication and move on.

What is not realized it that you are beating up your body. The stress is affecting your understanding. That is probably why your GPA also took a beating but, you decide to study harder and take less breaks. You start to fuel your body with food less or maybe more with foods that are less nutritious. You have so many factors building up against you. It is hard not to get depressed.

You are not getting enough nutrition, rest, and sleep. You are constantly worried about school and if your financial situation is not set. There’s that too. After class, school does not stop. You still have to study after class and do it pretty efficiently.

You still have to meet with the organizations who gave you all these pretty titles. You still have to email people who you networked with. You still have to show up to that job and internship you have every day you are scheduled, possibly even more. All this, for two to five bullets on a resume. All this to determine if you are worthy for a residency position.

You worry if you can finish the program and make it through because there are to many optional things that are actually mandatory. Who wouldn’t have some type of mental anxiety or depression? With all those things, where do you have time for yourself? Just you, by your lonesome.

People ask you what are you want to practice in after you graduate. But, you never have time to yourself. How can you figure out where you want to practice for the rest of your life if you don’t have time to mull over it? What you like? What you don’t like? It’s easy to think about what you don’t like. What are the implications of your decessions you make today? NOW! All that is stressing you out.

Because you have no clue where you are going in a sea of people who seem to know everything they need to know, you feel lost. You feel depressed. But you seem like the only one so you hide it. Health professionals aren’t allowed to be sick mentally or physically. That’s what you tell yourself. Who would trust a depressed/anxious/whatever pharmacist/nurse/doctor? So it stays hidden and you continue to get sadder, sicker, lonelier. You are the only one going through this. You hide behind dark jokes about stres in your program and we all laugh because internally we all know that is truth that you speak.

With all the shoving of people into multiple roles in order to be competitive enough for a job that they want, it leaves others who cannot be shoved into feeling like a failure. You cannot be an A or B student, president of ABC Association, researching at Such and Such Hospital, work more than 10 hours a week and be mentally sane all the time. You may want to but, you can’t and that is okay.

There are many people who do this but, at what cost? Depression amongst our healthcare students and professionals are rising. And with that, so does suicide. How can we as healthcare professionals or future healthcare professionals help others if we are falling apart? We forget about ourself because of the pressure to be the absolute best. Because the absolute best gets the best future, right?

Or is that what we are told? Then, because people have survived and succeeded at the expense of their mental health, this success at the expense of our mental health becomes the standard. You can always do more. So and so did more, so can you. You should be doing more. It will make you a more qualified doctor, nurse, pharmacist, physician’s assistant and so on.

What about becoming a better qualified you? Five hours is not a full night of sleep. Just because you’ve grown accustomed to four hours does not mean you are truly rested. Try eight hours for a couple of weeks and you’ll see. Feeling guilty about taking a break from studying is not healthy if you’ve been studying all day everyday. Not getting that leadership position does not mean you are a failure.

There is so much pressure on our healthcare professionals and students. We are killing ourselves trying to fit the mold of a highly-qualified healthcare professional. We are students; we are healthcare professionals but we are not robots. We are humans with emotions and human needs. Putting our basic human needs on the backburner because we feel that we do not have time for it is creating a massive depressed population. It is taking away the joy from the professions we chose.

We need to learn a way to balance becoming qualified professionals with being well-balanced human beings. But, it doesn’t help if we always feel as if there is not enough time within a day complete all our tasks without sacrificing ourselves.

I think we also need to make therapy or counseling a regular thing. Do not just wait until your stress and life issues become a major problem. I, myself, am learning to take care of my mental health a little better. There are counselors at colleges and universities. There are also online counselors and therapists now. I think these are great resourses. You can even get financial aid for some of these online programs if you cannot afford their regular prices. Right now, I am trying to see how an online therapist will work for my budget so, I can fit therapy into my schedule more flexibly.

Thanks for listening to my rant,

Shika

Like and share if you feel this post on a deep level. What do you think is causing depression in health professional? Have you experienced this yourself? I know I have. Let me know in the comments below.

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Shika Tamaklo is a pharmacy student attending Mercer University. She is a college lifestyle blogger who writes on fitness, health, student life struggles and, occasionally dabbles in creative writing.

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