Can You Study Medicine With A Mental Health Condition?

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

Pursuing a career in medicine is an ambitious and fulfilling path, but you may be wondering if it’s possible with a mental health condition.

Students are able to study medicine even if they have a mental health condition, whether it’s officially diagnosed or not. It’s extremely common for medical students to struggle with their mental health and this alone is not grounds for a student to not be admitted to a course or be ejected from one.

The good news is that having a mental health condition does not have to limit your dreams of becoming a medical professional.

Many individuals with diagnosed or undiagnosed conditions, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, PTSD, schizophrenia, and ADHD have successfully studied medicine and qualified to become doctors.

It is however essential to be aware of the challenges of studying medicine while managing your mental health, as well as what support is available to you as a student, both of which I’ll be covering in this article.

Can You Study Medicine With A Mental Health Condition?

A university will not negatively discriminate against you for having a mental health condition compared to another applicant that does not.

Medical schools will get hundreds of applications from students with mental health conditions and this is completely normal and indeed expected.

When I was studying medicine at the University of Leicester, quite a few of my friends struggled with their mental health at some point during the five-year degree.

The reality is that mental health conditions are far more common than you might think and unfortunately medical school can be an extremely high-pressure environment.

Can You Study Medicine With A Mental Health Condition Pixel Infographic

Concerns regarding an applicant’s health are addressed independently of the formal admissions procedure, ensuring that decision-making bodies, including interview panels, remain unaware of any health conditions disclosed by the applicant.

It’s only once that you’ve been offered a place that a university’s occupational health department might make some suggestions to the university as to how best they can support you in your studies.

Do You Have To Disclose Mental Health Conditions To A Medical School?

When applying to medical school, it is essential to present yourself honestly and accurately.

Although disclosing a mental health condition is a personal choice, you should carefully consider your options.

While there is no legal obligation for you to reveal your medical history, and the decision to disclose details about your mental health is by no means an easy one, it will almost certainly be in your best interests.

All medical schools will appreciate your openness and see it as evidence of your ability to overcome personal challenges.

The GMC describe three key reasons for students to tell occupational health services about any health conditions they have at the point of entry to a course:

  1. Medical schools have a responsibility to provide support to their students, and in order for the school to fulfil this duty, students must actively contribute by being transparent and forthcoming about their health conditions.
  2. Transparency and trustworthiness are integral qualities of a doctor, as both patients and the General Medical Council (GMC) rightfully expect these attributes from practising doctors. Failing to disclose a health matter that could potentially jeopardise patient safety is a breach of this professional obligation.
  3. Students need to recognise that their ill health may jeopardise their ability to pursue their studies. However, when students demonstrate this understanding by seeking assistance and support, their health condition rarely becomes a hindrance to completing the course. A proactive approach to demonstrate this understanding from the outset is for students to declare whether they will require additional support when they commence their course.

What Impact Can Mental Health Have On Studying Medicine?

I can speak from experience when I say that studying medicine can be a demanding and highly stressful experience.

As a medical student, it’s important to be aware of the potential impact that mental health issues can have on your studies and overall well-being.

Psychological distress has been reported to be higher among medical students compared to their same-age peers, even though they may enter medical school with similar or healthier profiles.

It’s important to appreciate that the pressure you may feel during your medical studies can contribute to poor mental health.

Factors such as long hours, demanding coursework, and a competitive atmosphere can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and even depression.

A student who's clearly disappointed with their UCAT test results
A student struggling with their mental health

For example, studies have found that doctors and medical students may be at a higher risk of self-harm and suicide.

If you’re not careful, these mental health issues can adversely affect your academic performance.

Depressed doctors have been found to make six times more medication errors than healthy staff members.

In addition to academic consequences, impaired mental health may also impact your personal life and relationships.

It can lead to social isolation, burnout, and difficulties with maintaining a work-life balance during medical school.

Because of all this, it’s crucial to recognise the early warning signs of mental health issues and take steps to address them.

What Support Is Available For Medical Students?

As a medical student with a mental health condition, it’s essential to know that there are various support services accessible to you.

Firstly, you can expect help from your medical school, as schools are obligated to provide guidance and support in accordance with the GMC and Medical Schools Council.

Examples of good practice include devising an individual support plan or granting reasonable adjustments in assessments.

Secondly, many universities have dedicated mental health support services that can work with medical students to navigate their unique challenges throughout the course.

These services may provide access to therapists, counsellors, or psychologists who understand the demands of a medical programme.

Finally, staying connected with peers can also be an invaluable resource.

There may be mental health initiatives at your university that encourage students to form support groups where they can share experiences and coping strategies.

It’s important to remember that you’re not alone in facing mental health challenges as a medical student and seeking help from your peers can be a significant part of your support system.

Don’t hesitate to actively seek assistance when necessary, as managing your mental health is essential to your success as a healthcare professional.

What If Your Mental Health Deteriorates At Medical School?

It’s not uncommon for medical students to experience a decline in their mental health during their training.

The intense workload and high expectations can often lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and even depression.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t felt the pressure at points during my time at medical school, but I was incredibly fortunate in that things always quickly got better for me.

If you find that your mental health is suffering during medical school, it’s important to be proactive and take steps to address the issue.

Firstly, remember that you’re not alone.

Recognising this, reach out to your peers or support groups where you can share your experiences and learn from others going through the same situation.

Next, you can focus on developing healthy coping strategies.

Research has shown that adopting positive approaches, such as talking to friends and family, engaging in hobbies that you enjoy and exercising can help significantly reduce stress among students.

Make a conscious effort to maintain a healthy work-life balance, setting aside time for hobbies and relaxation.

It is however also incredibly important to seek professional help if your mental health continues to deteriorate.

As I mentioned, many medical schools offer counselling and mental health support services tailored to the unique needs of medical students.

Counselling services are often available to medical students

Don’t hesitate to take advantage of these resources, as they can provide valuable guidance and support to help you navigate through challenging times.

Lastly, you can rarely go wrong by taking steps to prioritise self-care. Medical school can be demanding, but it’s essential to listen to your body and mind.

Ensure you’re getting enough sleep, eating well, and allowing yourself time for rest and recovery.

Remember, taking care of your own mental health is a crucial part of becoming an effective medical professional in the future.

Can A Doctor Practise Medicine With A Mental Health Condition?

A doctor can practise medicine with a mental health condition, provided it does not negatively impact their ability to provide care to patients. A significant proportion of doctors will at some point struggle with their mental health but this most often has no impact on their ability to do their jobs.

In fact, many medical professionals have experienced mental health issues and continued to lead successful careers in the field.

It is however crucial for doctors with mental health conditions to seek professional help when needed, as it can significantly improve their well-being and ability to practise medicine responsibly.

Early intervention can lead to better outcomes and treatment options, allowing doctors to continue providing quality care to their patients.

Having a mental health condition by no means automatically disqualifies you from obtaining a medical degree or practising medicine.

Treatment, support, and ongoing management of the condition are the primary factors that will determine your ability to serve as a practising physician.

The General Medical Council, as the medical regulator, will generally only get involved when there is a clear risk to patient safety as a result of a doctor’s health.

Should You Go To Medical School This Year If You’re Struggling?

Balancing academic demands with self-care and addressing your mental health needs can be a delicate process.

If you’re currently struggling with your mental health, you may be trying to decide whether going to university this year would be the right choice for you.

Although everyone’s situation will be unique, I’d suggest before starting your medical studies it’s essential to have a support system in place.

If you don’t, going off to uni in a new city surrounded by unfamiliar people could have a real negative impact on your circumstances.

It’s important to note that while it is possible to study medicine with a mental health condition, individuals with such conditions may face unique challenges throughout their academic and professional journey.

I’d urge you to be prepared to navigate these hurdles responsibly and communicate your needs openly with relevant parties when necessary.

Remember, having a mental health condition should not hold you back from pursuing a fulfilling and successful career in medicine.

With the right support, resilience, and dedication, you can achieve your goals and maintain your mental well-being.

Mental Health FAQs

What percentage of medical students experience mental health issues?

A meta-analysis from 2019 found that the global prevalence of anxiety among medical students was 33.8%. The global prevalence of depression was estimated to be 28% by a 2016 meta-analysis. These statistics show that medical students are far from immune when it comes to mental health problems.

What percentage of doctors have mental health issues?

A 2015 survey from the Medical Protection Society estimated that 85% of doctors have experienced mental health issues. The most common issues were stress (75%), anxiety (49%) and low self-esteem (36%). 32% of survey respondents reported having been diagnosed with depression during their careers.

What is the most common mental illness in doctors?

Anxiety and depression are among the most common mental illnesses experienced by doctors. The high-pressure environment, long working hours, and emotional demands of the profession can significantly contribute to the development of these conditions in even the most mentally robust of people.

Final Thoughts

Understanding and acknowledging your mental health condition is the first step towards success.

Openly communicating with mentors, peers, and mental health professionals can help you find the right balance between studying and taking care of your well-being.

Remember, your journey as a medical student and professional with a mental health condition is not only possible but can be incredibly rewarding and inspiring to others in similar situations.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.