Breaking down the barriers of stigma: understanding and fostering help-seeking behaviors in medical students
Many medical students are reluctant to seek help during the course of their four years of medical school. When they do finally ask for help, some are already burned out or in a crisis. One of the main reasons students are apprehensive about seeking help is stigma. This mixed methods action research study was conducted to explore whether a help-seeking, anti-stigma campaign improved help-seeking behaviors. The innovation was an anti-stigma campaign consisting of three components: (a) video vignettes of upper class students normalizing help-seeking, (b) a Friends and Family of Medical Students session to educate those closest to the student about medical school, and (c) an anonymous, online mental health screening tool. Data from the General Help-Seeking Questionnaire, individual interviews, and institutional data from the medical school provided information about the effects of the campaign and determined factors influencing help-seeking. Using these strategies, I hoped to normalize help-seeking and break down the barriers of stigma. Major findings included: Students were more likely to seek help from personal resources (close family and friends); Students may be more proactive with personal resources, but need prompting for college or formal resources; Students’ beliefs and attitudes were influenced by those closest to them and; First year students were more likely to seek help than their second year classmates. In addition, data inspired future research ideas and programming regarding the topic of help-seeking in medical school.