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Depression & Suicidal Ideation Among Medical Students

JAMA; 2016 Dec 6; Rotenstein, Ramos, et al

The overall prevalence of depressive symptoms among medical students was higher than in the general population, yet a low percentage of medical students who screened positive for depression sought psychiatric treatment. This according to a meta-analysis of 167 cross-sectional studies (n=116,628) and 16 longitudinal studies (n=5,728) from 43 countries. Researchers found:

  • Overall prevalence of depressive symptoms among medical students was 27.2% and overall prevalence of suicidal ideation was 11.1%.
  • Depressive symptom prevalence remained relatively constant over the study period.
  • Among medical students who screened positive for depression, only 15.7% sought psychiatric treatment.


Rotenstein LS, Ramos MA, Torre M, et al. Prevalence of depression, depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation among medical students: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2016;316(21):2214-2236. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.17324.


Depression appears to be higher among medical students and residents than in the general population or among students in other professional schools. The causes for this are unclear but may include the emotionally laden life experiences of illness and death that students are exposed to, as well as the difficulty of the curriculum. Once again, knowing the extent of the problem allows one to begin to address it. Other research has shown that the high rate of depression is seen in residents as well as students.1 Increased opportunities to reflect upon their experiences with peers and experienced professionals is being integrated into many medical schools’ curricula, and sensitivity to the risk and reality of depression among residents and students may de-stigmatize this issue and allow students to more easily ask for help when needed. —Neil Skolnik, MD

  1. Mata DA, Ramos MA, Bansal N, et al. Prevalence of depression and depressive symptoms among resident physicians: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2015;314(22):2373-2383. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.15845.