NMC task force launches online survey to assess mental health of medical students, faculty

Disability researcher Dr Satendra Singh questioned on the lack of diversity in representation in the NMC's National task force on mental health.

ByChetana Belagere

Published May 02, 2024 | 7:00 AMUpdatedMay 02, 2024 | 7:00 AM

Representational pic of a depressed PG doctor

Concerned over the deteriorating mental health of medicos, the National Medical Commission (NMC) has launched a nationwide survey on the mental health of medical students.

The online survey aims to tackle increasing instances of depression, ragging, and suicides. The survey questionnaire, a Google form, is widely shared on several online platforms in all colleges.

The survey is part of the NMC’s exercise to uncover stress factors, issues the students fear the most, and how their workload affects them.

Related: NMC national task force to examine suicide among medical students

Why the survey?

The NMC issued a public notice a week ago, directing all Indian medical colleges to furnish the form by Friday, 3 May.

“Anti-ragging cell in NMC has constituted a National Task Force on mental and well-being of the medical students. The task force has decided to conduct an online survey of medical students as well as the faculty in medical colleges,” the notice by Aujender Singh, Deputy Secretary of the Post-Graduate Medical Education Board (PGMEB) and Member Secretary of the national task force, said.

The NMC has promised to keep the participants’ identities confidential. The notice also stated that the task force will use the responses only for analysis and recommendation in its report.

“Individual responses will not be shared publicly,” the notice stated.

Interestingly, the notice also had a disclaimer, saying the data would not be 100 percent secure.

“We have taken appropriate measures to ensure the security of the data collected in this survey. However, please be aware that no method of transmission over the internet or electronic stores is 100 percent sure,” it said.

Related: Kerala has the highest suicide rate among MBBS students, Karnataka in PG

Depression and suicides

According to reports, 122 medical students — 64 MBBS and 58 post-graduates — have died of suicide over the past five years. Mental health and suicides have been a concern for the entire medical community.

Medical associations lauded the survey. “This is a much-needed initiative to address the burning issue of mental health amongst medical graduates and postgraduates,” the Federation of Resident Doctors’ Association (FORDA) posted on X.

“Wheels are turning, we will fight and defeat this demon of mental stress together!” it added.

“It is a much stronger move by NMC to address the mental issues of the medical students and faculty. We appreciate the move,” National Secretary of the FAIMA Doctors Association Dr Rishiraj Sinha said on the social media platform.

Also Read: Internet Gaming Disorder among medicos

Missing voices

Even as many appreciated the NMC initiative, Dr Satendra Singh, Director-Professor at the University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi, and a prominent disability researcher, questioned the lack of diversity in representation in the Commission’s National Task Force.

Speaking to South First, Dr Singh said a research paper published in Dialogues in Health raised a crucial question in January: Who drives the health policy agenda in India?

The study’s conclusion was alarming: Indian health committees from 1943 to 2020 lacked diversity in representation from multiple perspectives, failing to involve the real stakeholders.

Dr Singh had filed applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act seeking details of the representation of stakeholders in the task force responsible for formulating India’s National Suicide Prevention Strategy.

The task force lacked representation from suicide-attempt survivors, individuals living with mental health conditions, and suicide loss survivors — key stakeholders whose voices should have been heard in framing national guidelines.

“Unfortunately, this oversight has been repeated by the anti-ragging committee of the National Medical Commission, which recently announced a 15-member National Task Force to address suicide concerns among medical students,” Dr Singh explained.

Also Read: Are long working hours the reason for death of two TN doctors?

The critical question

He raised a critical question. “Where are the voices of suicide survivors or those with psychological disabilities in these decision-making processes?”

Another study published in JAMA — American Medical Association’s peer-reviewed journal — found that Asian and Underrepresented Medicine students with multiple disability types faced the highest risk of burnout, with over a three-fold greater risk compared to their white peers without disabilities.

Access to accommodations has been shown to mitigate burnout among students with disabilities. However, unlike the General Medical Council in the UK (Welcomed and Valued), the NMC lacked a clear pathway for requesting accommodations. It indicated a gap in addressing the needs of medical students with mental health conditions.

Dr Singh highlighted a disconnect between the University Grants Commission (UGC)’s accessibility guidelines, Ministry of Education’s Wellness Committees in all colleges, UGC’s Enabling Units and the NMC UG PG guidelines not mentioning reasonable adjustments.

He said that when the forms are analysed and the task force is debating on the recommendations they should have ideally included voices of suicide survivors and those with psychological disabilities.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).