Previous research has demonstrated the negative effects of study-related stressors on the mental health of medical students. It has been found that social resources such as social identity, dual identity and social support help buffer negative mental health outcomes. Notably, social status has been found to weaken the connection between stress and depressive symptoms. Based on these findings, the present study investigates how social resources (i.e., social identity, social support, dual identity and status) mitigate the impact of study-related stressors on the mental health of medical students who carry an inordinate stress burden.
The data collection was based on a questionnaire (online and paper-pencil) which was distributed to medical students in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The sample (224 participants) consisted of 77.2% female and 22.8% male medical students (36.2% human medicine students (HMS) and 63.8% dental medicine students (DMS)). The questionnaire included graphical scales and standardized questionnaires. We investigated demographic data, study-related stressors (i.e. Academic performance, clinical practice, faculty relations) and depressive symptoms as outcomes, and social identity, social support, dual identity and status as moderators. The analyses were performed using SPSS 25 for Windows.
We found significant positive associations between study-related stressors and depressive symptoms. While dual identity as well as social support by fellow students emerged as buffers in these associations, the other social resources did not. As regards status, it was found to work as a buffer only in HMS, who typically enjoy a significantly higher status than dental medical students.
It is only social resources such as support from fellow students and dual identity, but not other resource types, that can be effective buffers against depressive symptoms associated with study-related stressors. These findings can be used to promote students’ identities in relation to both fellow students and the faculty, or the university as a whole, enabling students to better cope with stress and, thus, suffer less from depressive symptoms. Furthermore, the HMS, who ascribe a relatively high status to themselves, can use their status as a buffering factor in stressful situations, in which little can be done from the outside.
Depression; Dual identity; Medical students; Social identity; Social support; Status; Strain; Study-related stressors.