At the start of my second year of medicine, I was in a decent position—I was enjoying my studies, had great friends and supportive family, became an officer of the student paper, still clung to my hobbies, and was not in any sort of financial trouble. There was no reason for me to feel isolation or loneliness.
Yet when the stress medical school naturally brings crept up on me, I felt burnt out and tired all the time. Days often passed me by, and I slept for more than was necessary despite the workload on my shoulders. Days found me hunched over invisible textbooks, carrying an imaginary backpack filled with rocks. I was exhausted. I stopped writing my stories. I stopped performing my poems. I began to skip meals and sleep in class despite my normally voracious appetite and my near obsessive note taking at the start of the year. My friends began to notice. I began to notice.
My concern is not that I am alone in my experience. My concern is that I am not alone. Too many medical students I’ve spoken to have and continue to experience symptoms of depression, anxiety and burn out. Too many medical students in my immediate community—my own school—have felt extreme stress over the past semester. Too many, in fact, that I’ve only heard about the troubles some had been facing. It need not be a definitive psychiatric diagnosis. It may simply be an immense burden they can’t seem to shake off. I grieve for their hurt despite never hearing about it personally.
According to a Time Magazine article, as much as 30% of young doctors suffer from symptoms of depression. The reasons may include disillusion, long hours, sleep deprivation, bullying, and stigma against mental illness. In a profession primarily defined to provide care, it’s odd so many of us feel isolated and uncared for. It is a symptom of a sobering systematic disease—why is the environment we are trained in unknowingly stripping so many of their passion and life? Why is the natural reaction to brush it off and say “we’re all going through a tough time”?
If the natural progression of one’s experience in medical school involves a slump in mental health, we must do something. We must act. Mental health among medical students is the Voldemort of our age—that which we must not speak of, that which only happens to our patients or people on television shows, that which occurs in distant realities—never now, and never here.
The Apollo Papers is a response to the current radio silence. Stories are powerful. Writing experiences down can help a person heal. Reading experiences on paper can help a person understand. By publishing testimonies of St Luke’s medical students struggling with mental health, we hope for an increase of compassion, understanding, and cathartic healing.
Our project takes on real people and real stories—stories they go through on a daily basis. To those out there who share these experiences, of whom we may be unaware of: you are not alone. There is hope. Have faith.