Psychological distress and psychiatric symptoms in Edinburgh University medical students
Reid, Nicholas Cunningham
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Information regarding psychological ill health among student populations has been accumulating for some years. Much of the data obtained relates to the prevalence of serious psychiatric illness. Less is known about rates of minor psychological complaints which nonetheless may have important effects on an individuals adjustment to university life, his or her emotional well-being, and capacity to work effectively.The study described investigates the prevalence and patterns of psychological distress and psychiatric symptoms among medical students at Edinburgh University medical school. The results of a questionnaire survey of fifty percent of the student roll of each of the five academic years are presented. The questionnaire used incorporates the thirty item version of the 'General Health Questionnaire' <GHQ). The results are examined to see whether particular periods of the medical course, or elements within it, are associated with higher rates of distress; and to look for groups who may be predisposed to the adverse effects of stress.Psychological distress is found to be widespread amongst the student group studied. Twenty six percent of students consider themselves to have been 'emotionally or nervously unwell' at some time during the preceding academic year. Overall rates of distress are high <mean GHQ score being 7.51) in comparison to rates found in studies of other groups within the general population. The mean GHQ score for women <8.36) is significantly higher than that for men <6.71); and significantly more women <31%) than men <21%) consider themselves to have been emotionally or nervously unwell. Rates of reported distress are significantly higher among first year students <mean GHQ score of 11.68) compared to the other four years <mean GHQ score of 6.32). Possible reasons for these differences are discussed.The implications of these findings in terms of student selection, structuring of courses, provision of.helping services and the future health of practising doctors are discussed.