Swansea research helps form new guidance to support medical students with mental health conditions

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New guidelines on supporting medical students with mental health problems have been based on research by a Swansea University academic.

Professor Andrew Grant, newly appointed chair of clinical education at the University’s College of Medicine led the team who carried out the research on which the new General Medical Council (GMC), guidance is based.

The new guidance from the GMC which regulates medical schools and the Medical Schools Council (MSC) says that those training to be doctors can be under considerable stress and that adequate support needs to be in place.

The research team found that medical students are often reluctant to ask for help and recommends doctors and medical schools de-stigmatise mental illness and calls for much more openness about the issue.

The team also acknowledged that the GMC should make clear that having a mental health condition does not necessarily mean that a doctor is unfit to practise or a student to undertake their studies.

The research revealed that that students can be affected by a range of conditions – which includes depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and substance misuse, all of which can affect the student’s ability to undertake their studies.

Professor Grant and the team recommended that students should have access to independent and appropriate medical support and should not be treated by medical school staff.

The GMC guidance includes examples of good practice and advice for medical schools on how to provide the best possible help for students who are struggling with their course.

The new guidance is designed to complement the support systems that medical schools already have in place. It highlights the steps that medical schools can take to:

  • promote good mental health and wellbeing in their students
  • encourage students to come forward and seek help
  • provide a range of support for their students
  • understand the relationship between health and student fitness to practise

Professor Grant said: “Medical students are more prone than age-matched controls to suffer from mental illness. When this happens they are reluctant to seek help because they fear that disclosing a mental illness will damage or end their career.

“We propose that mental illness should be ‘normalised’ among medical students. That is to say it should be treated as a normal, expected occurrence for which appropriate facilities are provided. Students should be encouraged to seek help early if they experience mental illness and are more likely to do this if it can be done without the medical school being involved.

“In the relatively infrequent cases where students’ fitness to practise has been questioned an occupational health unit, separate from the medical school should conduct a confidential assessment”.

The guidelines can be found here. ‎‎