The first year after medical school, called internship, means round-the-clock hours, low rank, constant demands from patients and superiors, learning complex new skills and constant fear of making a mistake that could harm a patient.
The result: A year of stress, sleeplessness and self-doubt that drives up thoughts of suicide to nearly four times the normal rate.
But help may be as close as the smartphone in the pocket of an intern’s white coat. A new study shows that a free web-based tool to support their mental health may cut the rate of suicidal thoughts in half.
The free web-based cognitive behavioral therapy or wCBT tool offers a digital, streamlined form of the “talk therapy” that mental health professionals provide in office visits. It’s called MoodGYM.
The findings suggest that such an tool could help others in high-stress, high-pressure positions. The study was recently published in JAMA Psychiatry.
Medical interns make an ideal population to study wCBT’s effects, says the author, because all of them experience a predictable sharp rise in stress and pressure with the start of their residency. There aren’t too many other populations like that to study.
Researchers tested the app on 199 interns. All volunteered to take part, and half were randomly assigned to use the wCBT group.
The other half got general information on depression and suicide, and contact information for mental health professionals.
In all, one in five of this latter group thought about suicide sometime in their internship year – compared with one in eight of those who used the MoodGym. Most of those assigned to use the MoodGym site stuck with it, using it all year