Program Coordinator: Ayesha Irfan

Contact us: [email protected]

Mental health is defined by the WHO as a state of wellbeing in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. Mental disorders include but are not limited to depression, anxiety, and psychosis. These, along with other conditions that impair mental health but may not be included under ICD-10, are grouped in this program under mental illness.

Mental illness is extremely prevalent worldwide and is a huge burden on society, including the economy, with statistics showing that mental, neurological and substance abuse disorders are responsible for 13% of the total global burden of disease in 2004. Vulnerable groups may additionally be at significantly higher risk of developing mental illness. These groups include, but are not limited to persons living in poverty, LGBTIQ persons, those exposed to conflict, disaster and other humanitarian emergencies, indigenous persons, those with chronic health conditions and those overworked and stressed.

Among those overworked and stressed, medical students are a vulnerable group. Mental illness, particularly depression and anxiety, is consistently higher among medical students compared to the general population and peers of the same age group. Those with mental disorders experience higher morbidity and mortality. Suicide is the second most common cause of death in young people, an age group that includes medical students.

Stigmatizing behaviors towards mental health make up a portion of the human rights gap between those with and without mental illness. Stigma is a degrading or debasing attitude against a person or group due to some salient attribute. Stigma marginalizes and degrades individuals and affects achieving of potential and happiness. Stigma may lead to discrimination and inequality in terms of rights, including denial of employment, educational and health opportunities (such as insurance) that would otherwise be granted. Stigma can also lead to acceptance of maltreatment, abuse and other unacceptable practices within health services. Stigma is a common and a significant inhibitor in progressing rights for those with mental illness and requires addressing. As future health leaders and a vulnerable population, medical students are well suited to lead the way in developing mental health activities to help reduce stigma between the medical and wider community.

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