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U of I/Rockford M2 Launches Student Group to Tackle 'Taboo' Mental Health Issues
Posted on: 10/25/2016

Mike Small

Mike Small, an ISMS student member and second-year student at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford, has been thinking a lot recently about how suicide and mental illness affect medical students and the patients they’ll treat. This year alone, three statistics stopped him in his tracks:

  • Suicide is ranked as the 10th leading cause of death in America, up steadily since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Suicide kills 300-400 physicians each year, with male and female physicians committing suicide at an equal rate, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). That’s significant because males are four times more likely than females to complete suicide in the general population.
  • Depression affects medical students at rates 15-30 percent higher than the general population, with bipolar disorder and alcohol/substance abuse as factors, according to the AFSP.

“We go into medicine trying to do no harm, and yet, we’re missing our No. 10 killer,” said Small. “It’s so taboo to talk about mental illness and depression as it affects medical professionals, and yet it’s affecting so many of our patients. We need to do more.”

In partnership with a Rockford counselor, Small formed a student organization at the school and had its first meeting in September, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Small says there’s plenty of ground to cover; its next meeting will focus on physician burnout, and will include physicians from Rockford’s SwedishAmerican health system. The group is also partnering with the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago for a future program.

Small’s objective is cultural change at the student level; already, fellow students are doing research on the topic of physicians and their mental health.

“We hope to integrate this into the curriculum because we don’t have this now. There will be a time when I’m not in medical school anymore, and it would be good to leave behind a permanent curriculum in the classroom to focus on these issues.”

Kudos to Mr. Small!

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