Monday, July 15, 2013

Grad School Blues

A few years back UC Berkeley did a study of the mental health of graduate students.  The results were quite astounding.

The study found that 67% of graduate students said they had felt hopeless at least once in the last year; 54% felt so depressed they had a hard time functioning; and nearly 10% said they had considered suicide (note that in the graph below shows considering suicide "frequently" or "all the time", thus the percentage difference).  Female respondents were more likely to report feeling hopeless, exhausted, sad, depressed, or suicidal. By comparison, an estimated 9.5% of American adults suffer from depressive disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Less than 2% of graduate students surveyed said they would first contact a mental health provider or a member of the faculty to discuss an emotional or stress-related problem.  While 52% of survey participants reported that they considered using psychological or counseling services provided by the university, less than 30% actually reported using these services.  Almost 25% of graduate students in the survey were unaware of on-campus mental health services. 

Female students reported receiving less attention from their academic advisors and were also less statistfied with these interactions than their male counterparts.  Therefore not only are female students experiencing more mental health issues, they have less contact (and therefore support) from their advisors, or their interactions are less satisfying.

One of the major conclusions of the study was that graduate students as a group are a population at high risk for mental health concerns. The level of stress for graduate students is magnified by their relative isolation from the broader components of campus life, the intense academic pressures of their advanced studies, and the increased presence of family and financial obligations.  The fact that women are getting less attention from their advisors and also have a higher self reported mental health problems means that this population is especially at risk.

I wanted to highlight the fact that graduate students experience mental heath problems at a much higher rate than the general population to raise awareness of the magnitude of this problem. Everyone in graduate departments -- whether it be students, staff, or faculty -- should be aware of the prevalence of mental health issues and the overall reluctance for people to seek help.  Everyone should know what resources are available at their institutions, and include mental health issues as part of the conversation with their students, peers, and classmates.