Open Access Research article

Mental distress, alcohol use and help-seeking among medical and business students: a cross-sectional comparative study

Marie Dahlin1*, Caroline Nilsson2, Emelie Stotzer3 and Bo Runeson1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Centre of Psychiatric Research, St. Goran, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

2 Sundsvalls Sjukhus [Sundsvall's Hospital], Sundsvall, Sweden

3 Department of Women's Health, Sodersjukhuset, Stockholm, Sweden

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BMC Medical Education 2011, 11:92  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-11-92

Published: 7 November 2011



Stress and distress among medical students are thoroughly studied and presumed to be particularly high, but comparative studies including other student groups are rare.


A web-based survey was distributed to 500 medical students and 500 business students. We compared levels of study stress (HESI), burnout (OLBI), alcohol habits (AUDIT) and depression (MDI), and analysed their relationship with self-assessed mental health problems by logistic regression, with respect to gender.


Medical students' response rate was 81.6% and that of business students 69.4%. Business students scored higher on several study stress factors and on disengagement. Depression (OR 0.61, CI95 0.37;0.98) and harmful alcohol use (OR 0.55, CI95 0.37; 0.75) were both less common among medical students. However, harmful alcohol use was highly prevalent among male students in both groups (medical students 28.0%, business students 35.4%), and among female business students (25.0%). Mental health problems in need of treatment were equally common in both groups; 22.1% and 19.3%, respectively, and was associated with female sex (OR 2.01, CI95 1.32;3.04), exhaustion (OR 2.56, CI95 1.60;4.10), lower commitment to studies (OR 1.95, CI95 1.09;3.51) and financial concerns (OR 1.81 CI95 1.18;2.80)


Medical students may not be more stressed than other high achieving student populations. The more cohesive structure of medical school and a higher awareness of a healthy lifestyle may be beneficial factors.