Medical students have a higher risk for depression, anxiety, stress-related symptoms, burnout, and suicide, and more rarely seek professional help or treatment than the general population. Appeals are being made to address the mental health and resilience of physicians-to-be. The novel program Training for Awareness, Resilience, and Action (TARA) was originally developed to treat depressed adolescents, targeting specific neuroscientific findings in this population. TARA has shown feasibility and preliminary efficacy in clinically depressed adolescents and corresponding brain-changes in mixed community adolescent samples. The present study investigated the feasibility and acceptability of TARA as a potential indicated prevention program for symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress and burnout in Swedish medical students.
We conducted a single-arm trial with 23 self-selected students in their early semesters of medical school (mean age 25.38 years, 5 males and 18 females), with or without mental disorders. All participants received TARA. Self-reported symptoms of depression, anxiety, perceived stress and psychological inflexibility were collected before (T0) and after the intervention (T1). Qualitative data on the participants’ experiences of TARA were collected in focus-group interviews conducted halfway through the program and upon completion of the program. Individual interviews were also conducted 2 years later. Qualitative content analysis was performed.
The mean attendance rate was 61.22% and the dropout rate was 17.40%. The Child Session Rating Scale administered after every session reflected an overall acceptable content, mean total score 34.99 out of 40.00. Trends towards improvement were seen across all outcome measures, including the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale Anxiety (t = 1.13, p = 0.29) and Depression (t = 1.71, p = 0.11) subscales, Perceived Stress Scale (t = 0.67, p = 0.51) and Avoidance and Fusion Questionnaire for youth (t = 1.64, p = 0.10). None of the participants deteriorated markedly during the intervention. Qualitative content analysis resulted in a main theme labeled: “An uncommon meeting-ground for personal empowerment”, with 4 themes; “Acknowledging unmet needs”, “Entering a free zone”, “Feeling connected to oneself and others” and “Expanding self-efficacy”.
TARA is feasible and acceptable in a mixed sample of Swedish medical students. The students’ reports of entering an uncommon meeting-ground for personal empowerment supports effectiveness studies of TARA in this context.