Washington, Dec 9: More than one in four doctors in the early stages of their careers has signs of depression, according to a new study that suggests gruelling years of training for a medical career are partly to blame.
That is bad news not just for the young doctors themselves, but also for the patients they care for now and in the future.
Depressed doctors are known to be more likely to make mistakes or give worse care, researchers said. The findings come from a careful investigation of 50 years' worth of studies that looked for depression symptoms in more than 17,500 medical residents.
By collecting and combining data from 54 studies done around the world, the researchers concluded that 28.8 per cent of physicians-in-training have signs of depression.
There was a small but significant increase in the rate of depression over the five decades covered by the study.
"The increase in depression is surprising and important, especially in light of reforms that have been implemented over the years with the intent of improving the mental health of residents and the health of patients," said Srijan Sen, senior author of the study from the University of Michigan Medical School.
Sen worked with the study's lead author - Douglas Mata, of Harvard University - and the other authors to pull together and analyse a wide range of studies.
They focused on the first post-medical school training years, called internship and residency. Those years are marked by long hours, intensive on-the-job learning, low rank within a medical team, and a high level of responsibility for minute-to-minute patient care.
While the percentage of residents with possible depression found by any one study ranged from 20 per cent up to 43 per cent, the bottom line when all the data were equalised and tallied together came out to 28.8 per cent.
Having a definitive number, and definitive evidence that the proportion of new doctors with depression symptoms increases over time, should help spur action to help address these issues, Sen said.
While many medical schools and teaching hospitals have begun to address student and trainee mental health more completely in recent years, more needs to be done, researchers said.
"Our findings provide a more accurate measure of the prevalence of depression in this group, and we hope that they will focus attention on factors that may negatively affect the mental health of young doctors, with the goal of identifying strategies to prevent and treat depression among graduate medical trainees," Mata said.
he study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.