Depression Rates High in First-year Interns

July 29, 2010

An evaluation of interns during their first year of residency found the percentage of those who met criteria for depression rose from 3.9% on entering internship to a mean of 25.7% during the first term.

An evaluation of interns during the first year of residency found that the percentage of those who met criteria for depression increased from 3.9% on entering internship to a mean of 25.7% during their first term.

In a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, Srijan Sen, MD, PhD, of the University of Michigan, and colleagues observed 740 interns in 13 US residency programs. The goal was to “identify psychological, demographic, and residency program factors that are associated with depression among interns,” and to use medical internship as a model to study the “moderating effects of a genetic polymorphism (5-HTTLPR) in the serotonin transporter protein gene on the likelihood that life stress will precipitate depression.” Determining this, the researchers hypothesized, may help to understand the development of mood symptoms in interns.

Subjects were assessed for depressive symptoms using the nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), a series of psychological traits, and the 5-HTTLPR genotype, prior to internship, and then were assessed for depressive symptoms and potential stressors at three-month intervals.

Results showed that the PHQ-9 depression score increased from 2.4 prior to internship to a mean of 6.4 during internship. Further, researchers found that prior to interns beginning residency, depressive symptoms among interns were associated with being female, a US medical graduate, and having a difficult childhood or history of depression, among other factors.

Sen and colleagues concluded that “there is a marked increase in depressive symptoms during medical internship.”