Ok…I’m bearing my darkest soul here, but I hope I can get some needed feedback on this topic.
Without giving my entire life story, I ended up being committed to a mental hospital for 9 days while I was in the Army in 2002. I had always struggled with sadness and loneliness but had never been dx with MI or sought any tx for my feelings. The psychiatrist who treated me said I had major depression and seemed to have been suffering from it for most of a decade, based on my history.
I was honorably discharged from the Army, but it does say right under the word “Honorable” that the reason for discharge was for MI.
I have been taking SSRI’s for 2 years now and my life has dramatically improved. For the last 3 semesters of college I have a 3.9 average. This is much better than my pre-military college record in which a averaged a 2.8 gpa. I have been in counseling since discharge and feel that I am 100% better mentally than I have ever been in my life. In a way, the realization that I was suffering from depression helped turn my life around for the better.
Anyhow…my question is this: Can anyone give me an opinion on how they think a past history of depression and an incident of suicidal ideation will effect med school acceptance chances?
Is there any advice on how I should negotiate this topic? Is there the possibility that I would not have to mention it, that I could just tell them that I was honorably discharged and leave it at that?
I look forward to all responses.
P.S. I also posted this on the SDN website, but I thought it may be more apt to get the advice of fellow nontraditionals like myself. Thanks a lot in advance.
Ok…I’m bearing my darkest soul here, but I hope I can get some needed feedback on this topic.
Treated clinical depression is like treated asthma and should cause you few problems unless you find that you need a medication adjustment. You need not mention your medical problems on your application as they are not a factor in your ability to practice medicine.
Only you know when you might have to seek a change in your SSRI as you know what happens when your medication is not working. As long as you are under the care of a physician and you meds are working, you should continue to do well in your coursework and in your practice.
In the 21st centuary, there are many medications with few side-effects that can be used for depression. These treatments work well and enable you to lead a productive life free of symptoms. Go for your dream and keep in tune with your medical condition.
As Natalie said, there is no reason to divulge your past medical history in the application process. An exception to this would be if your experiences with illness (and this goes for any sort of illness) were life-altering events that played a major role in your decision to become a physician. It would be hard to write your personal statement without mentioning such an experience.
I don’t get the sense that your relatively recent experience with depression was that sort of sentinel event, although clearly the diagnosis and successful treatment were life-altering for you. Reading between the lines, I sense that your determination to practice medicine predates this experience, am I right? If so, there is no need to provide this information as part of your application.
You will have to include documentation of service-related coursework as part of your AMCAS but I am pretty sure that your honorable discharge document is not going to be requested. However, this is something that you should find out for sure. IF you discover that an AdCom might legitimately request the document that gives the reason for your discharge, then you will have to address the MI in order to properly frame the experience and allay concerns. You don’t want people to think there’s a problem where there isn’t.
And that’s also why you don’t want to divulge this information except in that specific situation of a “pre-emptive strike,” if you will. It’s just not relevant, and it could raise questions and, regrettably, prejudices.
I empathize with your struggle with depression. I too, have suffered from depression for most of my life, but only got on SSRIs within the last 8 years. It took a lot more to finally get my own life changed around, and it continues to be a struggle at times. I do agree with Nat and Mary, that it isn’t relevant to your application unless you have questions based on your discharge. I wish you the best as you go forward.
Hi Natalie, Dr. Renard, and Kathy…
First, thank you for your responses and kind comments. Please believe me that it is encouraging toward my goal of becoming a physician. I struggle with self doubt because of my past, but I’m sure we all do to some extent. I really appreciate that y’alls (sorry…I’m southern…y’all feels more natural than you guys or similar pronoun) words were not wholly sympathetic in tone, but expressed quite a deal of practicality about my situation.
Dr. Renard, you are correct that my desire to practice medicine predates my dx. for MI. It’s been something that I’ve talked myself out of for about the last 10 years now. You know what I mean? It’s like I knew it’s what I wanted but I was too daunted and overwhelmed by a combination of things…(Personal hx, Family, Work, Length of study, to name a few) to let myself go for it. I’m sure that is common, though.
The one thing I do know is that since I’ve started taking medication I feel that my dedication, drive, and, frankly, my ability to do well in school has increased enormously. I think that I will try to use my experience with depression not as a way of soliciting sympathy from an AdCom, but in the sense of a “Look how far I have come” sort of story.
I guess that I feel I should make MI relevant to my application because I have derived some good because of it and also I don’t want to appear as if I were trying to hide it from anyone. (Even though I sometimes I wonder if I should) It’s as you said, Dr. Renard: it would be a “pre-emptive strike”. But, as you also said, it may cause me some prejudice as well. That’s where the entire problem is centered I suppose, the pre-emptive vs. the prejudice.
The more I learn about the application process the more I learn that it is a game of strategy. Premeds are essentially trying to predict and orchestrate positive responses from AdComs. Stellar GPA’s and MCAT’s are not the end all for admission (THANK GOD!) . Actually, the more I read the more I feel that this is not an application process at all…it is more akin to a political campaign for office. Please correct me if I’m wrong to make that analogy.
A hospitalization and discharge from military service because of depression is a pretty big issue it seems. I’m afraid that not discussing it will come back to bite me if it is discovered. At the same time, an upfront presentation of it may make it all the easier for an AdCom to “weed” me out of their huge stack of applications.
I just hope that in the end understanding, thoughtful, and considerate people like yourselves will be the ones looking at my application. I love this website. The personal stories and experiences are illuminating and helpful. God bless y’all.
hey there “fool” among us friends I’m just Mary! Anyway, I appreciate your dilemma - that while your desire to practice medicine is long-standing, it is only post-treatment that you were able to focus that desire and make it into a concrete goal. It’s hard to say exactly how to write about that.
You are absolutely right that the application process is an exercise in selling yourself. I like your analogy of a political campaign - as a lifelong politics junkie that appeals to me! But yes, you need to “package” yourself in an appealing way. Alluding to difficulties surmounted in your past is okay as long as you’re matter of fact and VERY convincing that it is all “water under the bridge.”
It’s a ve-e-e-e-rrrrrry delicate balance that you are proposing. I really do understand why you’d want to include something about it, truly I do. I think it is possible to do it in a way that makes it clear that your recovery is not just a milestone, but a life-altering event that gives you a stronger perspective on the future.
However, I remain extremely cautious on your behalf about too much disclosure. If you can think of a way to tell this story in relatively general terms, without details such as your service discharge, I think this would be prudent… if I may indulge in a little disclosure of my own, it was while I was in psychotherapy for depression that I hatched my own aspirations for medical school - in fact it was my therapist who suggested it. Now, I was sure that if I had told that story in a personal statement, I would’ve never gotten an interview. I sounded like a nut job. So I re-formulated the experience as one of self-discovery, kinda leaving out the role of others. And it wasn’t an inaccurate story because as I’m sure you know, therapy IS about self-discovery. I just left out the details that might have made people respond with, "uhhhhmmmmmmmmmmm ohhhh-kaaaaaaay."
I DO see your story as one that could be told without the details that’ll make some people hesitate. The struggle to identify one’s true life calling, the difficulty of contending with jobs that seemed appealing but turned out to be a very bad fit… basically saying, "It just took me a longer time than most people to figure out what I wanted to do when i grow up, but once I figured it out, then the things I needed to do came easily to me."
JMHO of course, and worth no more than two cents, I’m sure. Good luck!
I like the way you think. You’ve phrased certain things much better than I would. It helps me see new angles on how to approach my problem. Like this comment that you made, “…it is only post-treatment that you were able to focus that desire and make it into a concrete goal.” I also liked this one: “So I re-formulated the experience as one of self-discovery”.
There are plenty of gems in your advice, and I hope that you will take it as a compliment that I plan to mine several of them for my essay.
What I like most is that you speak from first hand experience on both the depression and AdCom POV. I think that works to make your strategic advice all the wiser concerning my particular situation. So, you can be sure I’m listening to what your saying. And thanks…for saying it.
I think that realistically I won’t be able to apply until the summer of 2006, since I have all the prerequisites yet to complete. I could squeeze them in and take the August 2005 MCAT, but I’ve been advised that would be a disservice, since it would leave little preperation time for the test. Plus those who take it in August are at a disadvantage for admissions from what I hear. I have enough disadvantages as is.
I’m just saying that I have plenty of time to structure my essay so that I approach this depression thing in the right way. But I really like what you’ve had to say. It is a delicate balance, and having support from friends(internet friends count, right?) will keep me steady through it. Talk to you later.
Justin, thank YOU very much for that feedback. I’m never sure if I’m expressing myself quite right but it sounds like I hit a resonant chord with you. I’ll be honest, it’s only now that I am safely in a residency program and well-liked that I am willing to be relatively honest about my experiences in the mental health sector! Because as much as you think doctors SHOULD be the most open-minded of any group about mental health and mental illness issues, in fact there is still a lot of hesitancy when someone is found out to have a “history.” To some extent I think this is a kind of protective paternalism: “Oh geez this guy cracked up just dealing with ordinary life, is med school (or residency) going to put him over the edge?” To some extent it is regrettably a worry about available resources: “Arrrggghhh students with special needs! We don’t have the staff to deal with people who are having Issues.” (I experienced this one first hand when I told one of my deans that I have MS - mind you, I wasn’t asking for a single accommodation, just letting them know as an FYI, and I could see the dean inwardly groaning, I swear.)
I could go on but you get the idea… clearly you really DO get it, Justin; it sounds like you’ve done lots of thinking and you’ve certainly made a lot of progress on your journey.
I do agree with your practical conclusion to take the April 2006 MCAT. I know, I know, it’s another year - but it is so much better to invest that year in some high-quality application buffing! Good luck and I will look forward to hearing about your progress.
who hopes this note will make sense when read by people who are keeping reasonable hours and getting reasonable amounts of sleep…
I couldn’t agree more with Mary that the issue is what you discovered and realized, not who facilitated that process (i.e., a therapist). I have discovered and realized a great deal. However, this is not like a scientific paper: you don’t have to give coauthorship credit to your discoveries. They’re all yours.
Hey again y’all,
yeah…the self discovery theme will certainly be key in my essay. After reading the comments here I will now be sure to focus on my own part of the overcoming process rather than the role of others who have helped. Believe it or not, I was pretty much considering an opposite approach before. You know…sort of like how other people showed me the truth sort of thing. I’ll probably still have some of that, but not like I had been considering doing.
I still have lots of questions about all kinds of other issues but I’ll save those for other threads. (Unless I find the answers I need in the archives…I literally spend hours on here at a time just reading) Thank you again, so much.
And you get some sleep, Mary.
Like some others that have posted, I too have dealt with psychiatric problems;and as I start the application process I’m wondering if it would be naiive to reveal any of the details to adcoms.
I went through something similar to the first poster; hospitalized twice (once before freshman yr which forced me to take a med leave, once over the summer before junior year.)
I’m too paranoid to go into the details here, but I’ll say I was dealing with similar issues mentioned but to a severe degree. In addition to SSRIs, I was on other powerful meds which I’m sure were responsible for my lousy grades junior year. In fact, at my school fails don’t show up on transcripts so it basically looks like I only took 3 classes all of junior year
Getting off the meds was difficult but I finally did it once I graduated. And I’m sure that all the drowsiness, sluggishness and other side effects contributed to my poor academic record, esp because now that I’m medication free I’ve managed to take a year of orgo+ physics
and get straight As.
But now the question is how(or whether) I explain junior and senior year to med schools. I was on academic probation and just scraped by with Cs. I’m not sure if my post-bacc gpa will compensate for it, not to mention I’m sure if I’m lucky enough to get an interview I will be asked about the short courseload.
I’ve pretty much to keep everything hidden; I’m thinking the chances that I get an admissions reviewer who is uneasy about MI is greater than the chances of getting one who will be sympathetic and look at it as a MEDICAL illness that I conquered.
It’s sad the we have to face stigma at some point or another, but thats how life works I guess
Note the answers to the previous poster on the same subject. You need not waste your personal statement trying to explain your academic performance. Any person on an admissions committee can figure out your academics.
Sell yourself in the most postive light. You should not draw attention to anything that might be perceived as a negative. I would avoid mentioning anything about your physical or mental health. You health matters are not the business of an admissions committee. If you are asked to expain your academic probation, you should be forthcoming but be very careful as to how you speak about your health matters. You don’t want to give anyone a reason to keep you out and you do want to give plenty of reasons to admit you.
Anything that is not currently affecting you is not germain to your future performance in medical school. You need to be very, very careful as to how you explain your past academic difficulties without giving anyone to reject you.
Good luck and keep up the strong academics.
Thank’s a lot for your input Dr. Belle. I considered writing about my struggle with mental illness in my personal statement; partly because I’ve read successful PSs that dealt with the applicant’s desire to enter medicine as a result of previous health problems (an anorexia one comes to mind). Also because I want to mitigate the severity of my academic record junior year.
But you are right, and I’m fortunate that my post-bacc grades have been excellent, so I hope that will make up for it. I’ve decided when asked,(which I know I will be) about only having 3 courses for 2 semesters, I will say it was health related but not go into details; also stressing that I’m healthy now. I THINK that would be better than them just thinking I slacked and had a lousy work ethic.
Its not kosher for them to ask the nature of the illness, correct?
Write Dr. Hunter Adams. He was a self-admit to a psych hospital and became a doc. I met him and found him to be the most approachable guy in the world. He corresponds by letter with about 300 people, so i don’t believe ehe would mind talking to corresponding with another one. Go to his website to get his adress or phone and try to get a hold of him. http://www.patchadams.org/home.htm
I believe that the highest incidence of MI comes from being in the armed forces. Look at conditions like PTSD and even nerve gas exposure. It absolutlely ruined my father and his brothers. My father became an alcoholic and went on disability due to his “parnoid schizophrenia”. His brother had to have the ancient lobotomy and commited suicide a few years later…(how about that it didnt work) (needless to say i lived with other family) If it ever does come up that is something to keep in mind…the statistics speak for themselves. You might think about times you have been asked to compromise your personal ethics while in the military. Remember the hippocratic oath physicans will take upon graduation “Do no harm”. If you have any ounce of compassion of course you might be stressed or even depressed with certian ideas and orders. I think the fact you are picking up your life and leaving this behind is truly wonderful. I just want to encourage you to keep going!
I am by no means saying anything negative…i hold servicemen in great honor.
I agree with Mary and everyone as well…I wouldnt bring light to it…remember you are selling yourself and trying to make yourself look stellar compared to the 1000s of others.
Will & Heather,
Guys the last post was from 3 years ago.
It was long overdue for a bump.!
It is will’s fault…he did it first
I am so right though…ya know.
note to self…read dates. lol