July 23, 2020

Assessment of Disclosure of Psychological Disability Among US Medical Students

A new survey of U.S. medical school disability offices reveals a potential 100x gap between the number of students who disclose and receive accommodations for psychological disabilities and the actual prevalence of conditions like depression and anxiety. Lisa Meeks and colleagues analyze the results and present factors contributing to low rates of disclosure. 

Visual abstract for Assessment of Disclosure of Psychological Disability Among US Medical Students
A new JAMA Network Open research letter authored by Lisa Meeks and colleagues reports on the rates of psychological disability disclosure among U.S. medical students.

While recent research suggests that up to 30% of U.S. medical students meet the criteria for depression, a new survey led by Lisa Meeks, Ph.D., assistant professor, estimates that only 0.3% of medical students disclose their depression as a disability to their medical school.

Meeks and her team surveyed U.S. allopathic medical school disability offices, with 89 schools reporting data representing 46,635 students and their disability accommodations. According to the survey, 4.7% of U.S medical students registered as having a disability, and of those cases, 30% disclosed a psychological disability, such as anxiety or depression.

While the rate of psychological disabilities reported has increased by 12% in the last few years, the authors note that this figure is considerably lower than the actual prevalence of psychological disability among medical students. 

READ ALSO: Meeks interviews UCSF resident on living with bi-polar disorder in Docs With Disabilities Podcast

There are several factors that contribute to the gap in the rate of disclosure of psychological disability and students’ accurate experience that the authors outline, including:

  • A lack of engagement in mental health services
  • A lack of awareness that these students are eligible for accommodations rather than requiring them to take a leave of absence
  • The ongoing stigma surrounding psychological disabilities
  • Students’ concerns about disclosing their disability on state medical boards, among other reasons. 

Meeks’ work was published in JAMA Network Open, an open access network journal from the Journal of the American Medical Association. In addition to Meeks, the new paper’s authors include Melissa Plegue, M.A., biostatistician in the Department of Family Medicine; Ben Case, MPH; Bonnielin K. Swenor, Ph.D., MPH, of the Johns Hopkins University’s Wilmer Eye Institute; and Srijan Sen, M.D., Ph.D., the Frances and Kenneth Eisenberg Professor of Depression and Neurosciences in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan.

Article Citation: Meeks LM, Plegue M, Case B, Swenor BK, Sen S. Assessment of Disclosure of Psychological Disability Among US Medical Students. JAMA Network Open. 2020;3(7). doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.11165.