There is a high level of co-morbidity among those with mental health and substance use…
LGBT Medical Students Plagued by High Levels of Depression, Anxiety
Sexual minority medical students are more likely to report social stressors than heterosexual medical students and are more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety, according to a study from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. A more recent study also found that many LGBT medical students choose not to disclose their sexual minority status in medical school, perhaps in an effort to avoid some of these stressors.
Poor mental health is a serious concern among the LGBT population, and it is also a concern among medical students. The Minnesota researchers hypothesized that sexual minority medical students would experience even higher levels of depression and anxiety than heterosexual medical students and would report even higher levels of certain major stressors that can contribute to poor mental health.
Higher Depression, Anxiety Rates
The Minnesota study looked at a random sample of 4,732 first-year medical students from 49 medical schools. Of these students, 5% (232 students) identified with a category other than heterosexual. Overall, 21% of the sexual minority medical students had experienced depression, compared to 13% of the heterosexual first-year students. The rates of anxiety were also disproportionately high among the LGBT medical students: 11% compared to 6% of the heterosexual students.
The sexual minority first-year students also reported higher rates across the board of various social stressors. The Minnesota researchers found that 35% of the LGBT students had suffered insults compared to 27% of heterosexual students and that 23% had suffered harassment or threats compared to 13% of heterosexual students. In addition, sexual minority students were more likely to lack companionship (53% compared to 42%), to feel left out (51% compared to 42%) and to feel isolated (54% compared to 43%).
Keeping LGBT Status Secret
A study from the Stanford University School of Medicine published in February 2015 found that approximately 30% of sexual minority medical students choose not to disclose their sexual orientations while in medical school. Furthermore, 40% of the LGBT students said that they were afraid of experiencing discrimination in medical school if they disclosed their sexual minority status. Students expressed concerns about possible discrimination from their instructors and advisors, as well as their fellow students and even their patients.
The authors of both studies expressed concerns about these trends and emphasized the need for inclusion and diversity in the medical profession. As the Minnesota study points out, poor mental health among medical students is associated with poor performance and dropping out of medical school. This means that sexual minority medical students, already a relatively small percentage of the medical student population, may find it that much harder to complete their training.
Diversity in Physician Workforce Improves Patient Experience
The authors of the Minnesota study note four reasons that diversity among the medical workforce is important. First, it can help to improve access to medical care among members of minority populations. It can also improve the sensitivity and inclusiveness of care for patients who belong to minority groups that often feel misunderstood and excluded. Workforce diversity can also help to improve the competence of all physicians, even those who do not belong to minority groups, and all of these reasons contribute to the fourth reason: increased patient satisfaction.