By Katie Hockensmith, OMS-II, Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine at Midwestern University
Statistics show that every year we lose 400 physicians to suicide and many more suffer in silence from substance abuse, anxiety, and depression, afraid to speak out for fear of being stigmatized. The stressors placed on physicians are shared among many in the profession and often begin while the individual is still in training as a medical student or resident.
As osteopathic medical students we are taught to care for the entire mental, physical, and spiritual patient. Ironically, the rigorous pace of medical school can result in students sacrificing their own health before ever completing their training. Maria Jones, second-year student at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine, is one of the many osteopathic medical students working to break the stigma associated with mental health. In her words, “Medical school is a rewarding and exhausting experience. As students we place pressure on ourselves to reach our own standards of perfection, and when we inevitably fall short of perfection it is easy to feel helpless.”
Now is the time to raise recognition and provide resources to combat the rigors of the profession, while we are still in training and have time to develop positive reinforcing behaviors. Edward Ng, second-year student at Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, shares, “The first step towards better mental health is understanding that it is okay to feel like you’re not okay and it does not make you a weak person. You can’t take care of others until you take care of yourself.”
When 400 lives are at stake this year alone, the time to break the stigma associated with mental health and encourage students to speak out if they are struggling is now.
This past year I have had the privilege of serving on the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine’s Council of Osteopathic Student Government Presidents (COSGP) and overseeing the Mental Health Awareness Task Force (MHATF), a COSGP initiative uniting wellness efforts of DO programs across the country. One of the initiatives the MHATF has been working on this year is organizing the OMS Day of Wellness, an event designed for all osteopathic medical students to bring recognition to the mental health challenges medical students face and stop the stigma associated with mental health.
On February 20th osteopathic medical students across the country joined together to celebrate OMS Day of Wellness on each of their campuses. At Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine at Midwestern University (CCOM) we celebrated OMS Day of Wellness by focusing on recognition. Members of the CCOM wellness committee painted a banner for students to sign in commitment of serving as an ally of mental wellness advocacy on campus. Additionally, we distributed long sleeve tees, “Save 400” pins, and encouraging ID cards to break the stigma associated with mental wellness and create a supportive culture on campus. The back of the tees’ quote, “It is Okay Not to be Okay”, serves as a reminder to students and their colleagues that they are not expected to be perfect and should not feel isolated if they are suffering. The Save 400 pins are intended for students to place on their white coat or backpack to raise further awareness, and the ID cards allow students to write down their reason for pursuing a career in medicine and slide it into their ID badge as an encouraging reminder.
CCOM was joined in celebration by colleges of osteopathic medicine across the country to raise awareness and promote mental health initiatives on their campuses. The Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM) celebrated OMS Day of Wellness by organizing a mental wellness fair that offered a variety of events and resources to address mental, physical, and spiritual wellness, including yoga, meditation, tai chi and qi gong, healthy recipes, smoothies, coloring, crafts, a bubbles station, and balloon animals. Patrick Abler, a second-year student at ACOM, states, “We work year-round to promote mental health and decrease the stigma of asking for help by hosting weekly wellness activities and monthly poster sessions.”
Join the COSGP MHATF and osteopathic students across the country in the fight to break the stigma and Save 400 lives. Speak out if you are suffering and know that you are championed by the 31,000 osteopathic medical students united to bring recognition to the importance of mental wellness.
View the photos below to see how osteopathic medical schools across the country observed OMS Day of Wellness, and follow @cosgp and #OMSDayofWellness on Instragram for more pictures of OMS Day of Wellness celebrations. To learn why all ED to MED advocates should make wellness a priority, read second-year Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine student Jay Olson’s guest post about why he advocates for caring for your body, mind, and spirit.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by AACOM.