More and more medical students are opening up about their personal challenges with mental health. Nottingham medical student Issy Walker shares her experience of navigating medical school with a mental health condition.
My name is Issy, and I’m a 3rd year (CP1) medical student at the University of Nottingham.
I wanted to study medicine because I've always been slightly obsessed with all things to do with the human body – my parents had to hide a first aid book from me when I was five, as I started trying to diagnose my siblings with various ailments!
I also had a really excellent GP back home. She was so kind, caring and made me feel like the way I was feeling was completely valid. On days when I’m working with patients, I think about what she would do in the situation. I really aspire to be like her.
What was it that I needed this GP to support me with? I can seem confident and happy on the outside, but as people get to know me, they will find that I really struggled with my mental health.
I have been receiving treatment for a severe anxiety disorder since I was 11. It first presented as debilitating phobias, and then progressed into a more general fear of everything. Further down the line, I’ve suffered with depression and self-harm, all stemming from the original anxiety.
Support for student mental health is life changing
The way I felt used to really limit what I could do. But, with the right mix of medication, talking therapies, support from my university and more than a little tough love, I’ve begun to use my experiences for good. I love to speak out for myself and others like me as much as possible, especially using social media. I am keen to prove to myself and others that I can be just as good a doctor as my peers – boosted with a heightened sense of empathy, I can personally relate to those going through a similar experience to mine and it makes me feel like what I’ve been through is worth something.
I know I can achieve my goals in life, such as studying medicine. In the past, I was often told I wasn’t cut out for it or wouldn’t cope. Now I think, “if only you could see me now”. I’m genuinely proud of how far I’ve come. Sometimes, I just need a bit of extra support and adaptation, and that’s completely fine. But I am certain that I am not the only medical student who feels like this – as if nobody cared, as if I was ‘weak’ and as if I was wasting peoples time if I tried to reach out. I never want anyone to ever feel like I did at that time.
Medical school is competitive and that can have a negative effect on some students. Studies show medical students report higher instances of depressive symptoms than the general population. In a 2015 Student BMJ survey, 30% of students said that they had received treatment for a mental health condition while at medical school. Researchers studying the prevalence of depression among medical students list contributing factors as stress, sleep deprivation, academic rigour, exposure to traumatic clinical situations, debt, and moving away from loved ones.