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New-Onset Depression Common During Surgical Internship Year

Among surgical interns with no depression at baseline, 32 percent had high enough scores on mood surveys to be considered depressed

MONDAY, May 9, 2022 (HealthDay News) — The first year of surgical internship is associated with an increased risk for new-onset depression, according to a research letter published online April 27 in JAMA Surgery.

Tasha M. Hughes, M.D., from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues used data from the Intern Health Study to evaluate mental health and estimate new-onset depression among surgical interns. The analysis included four annual cohorts (12,400 interns, of whom 2,793 were surgical interns) between 2016 and 2020.

The researchers found that the baseline prevalence of depression among surgical interns was 3.4 percent. However, among those without depression at baseline, 32.2 percent exceeded the threshold of depression on one or more quarterly surveys. New-onset depression was associated with female sex, nonheterosexual orientation, nonpartnered status, higher baseline neuroticism and early childhood adversity scores, and mean and maximum work hours. Surgical interns had higher odds of new-onset depression than nonsurgical interns (odds ratio, 1.14); however, when controlling for maximum work hours, the association reversed (odds ratio, 0.85). Among participants with new-onset depression, persistence of depression was seen among 64.1 percent of interns. Only 26.5 percent of interns with new-onset depression sought treatment.

“Surgical training, especially in the United States, can be a period of intense stress, which we find is linked to new onset of depression,” Hughes said in a statement. “These findings suggest a need for surgical program directors, leaders, and health systems to continue to find ways to mitigate the effects of surgical training, normalize help-seeking, make mental health support easily available, and pay special attention to those with characteristics that might put them at increased risk.”

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