February 10, 2022

Three U-M medical students increase access to mental health services for their peers

A new initiative provides medical students with confidential psychological care and psychiatric services at no charge

University of Michigan medical students

Claire Collins and Cayla Pichan are both aspiring physicians who care deeply about their education, as well as the individuals that they work closely with. But they also have something else in common, an often-overlooked story centered around depression and anxiety.

“During my first year as a medical student at the University of Michigan, I went through a terrible time marked by my own depression and anxiety,” said Collins. “Although I had support from our academic counselors, I didn’t have many options involving peers or professionals that I could easily turn to for help. This left me feeling really isolated in my struggles.”

Pichan notes that she, too, felt very much alone when it came to her mental health when she first started medical school.

“I have definitely had my own journey with anxiety and when I first started as a medical student, I knew that I needed to find reliable psychiatric care in order to succeed,” she said. “And even though I followed everything I was advised to do; it was still really overwhelming to manage the many aspects involved in seeking mental health services.”

Pichan adds that this inspired her to talk to some of her peers about their thoughts around access in the world of mental health.  

“Many of my friends agreed that they were also confused about where to start looking for help,” she said. “And things like cost and time constraints added an extra barrier to actually seeking the help that many of them needed.”

In the Spring of 2020, Collins and Pichan connected with another peer, Lauren McGee, to collaborate on a student needs assessment that focused on the wellbeing of their fellow medical students.

“After the survey, we put out a call to any and all students who were interested in helping us create a presentation for our executive leadership team regarding the evidence that we had collected, as well as our recommended next steps,” said Collins. “In August of 2020, we presented to the deans of our school and requested the creation of a workgroup solely focused on addressing issues of access, time, equity and stigma around mental health.”