With greater access to treatment, more people find they can take on the monumental venture of earning a degree. Yet once they are in school, their risk of mental health problems increases. Graduate students in particular may struggle to manage school, finances, and self-care. The combined stress can be devastating to mental well-being.
The American Psychological Association says the need for mental health care on campuses is increasing. A 2015-2016 report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health surveyed college counseling centers across America. The report showed an increase in student hospitalization, medication use, and suicide. More than 55% of the centers saw increases in salary budgets to meet demands for care. But some clinics still face challenges in meeting students’ needs. They may have limited hours of service or high costs of care.
Meanwhile, almost a third of PhD candidates may be at risk for mental health concerns. Around 34% of graduate students may already experience moderate to severe depression.
Researchers continue to study the specific differences between undergraduate and graduate students’ health. Further surveys may determine how to improve psychological care for each population. The goal is to promote mental well-being in colleges and universities.
Risk Factors for Mental Health Concerns in Grad School
Some populations are more at risk of developing mental health concerns. As the population of graduate students grows more diverse, so do mental health needs. Minority and international students may need help with multicultural issues. LGBTQ+ students can also face discrimination.
These populations can benefit from seeking mental health treatment on campus. Yet not all students may feel represented at their school’s counseling center. Around 71% of counseling center staff members are white. The number of openly LGBTQ+ counselors is limited. Counseling centers could better serve minority students by hiring more diverse staff.
Another risk factor is academic performance. Students who feel they are behind in their classes are more likely to report stress and anxiety. The Graduate Assembly of University of California, Berkeley rates academic performance as one of the top three predictors of depression in graduate students.
Yet catching up may be easier said than done. Many graduate students have responsibilities outside school such as childcare or employment. In a 2014 survey, graduate students cited job outlook, financial stress, loneliness, and alienation from mentors as contributing factors to depression and negative well-being.
Graduate students can help improve mental health outcomes by learning what signs to watch for. Any of the following symptoms may indicate a larger mental health concern:
- Panic attacks
- A dependence on drugs or alcohol
- Inability to complete daily tasks
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Suicidal thoughts
How Grad Students Can Use Counseling Centers
Psychological care addresses diagnoses that affect students as well as the general population. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy can help individuals cope with anger or anxiety. Acceptance and commitment therapy can help busy students focus on their priorities.
Graduate students are a population with unique mental health needs.
Counseling centers can also introduce students to alternative treatments to complement traditional therapies. Some therapists might assign internet-based worksheets to help reprogram harmful thoughts. Others may direct students to mindfulness practices like yoga.
Treatment can be especially helpful for students whose diagnoses impact learning. When a survey asked students if campus counseling services helped with their academic performance, over 70% answered positively. These results suggest counseling can help both mental health concerns and academic issues.
Preventing Mental Health Issues During Grad School
Self-care practices like sleep and exercise can promote more positive mental health outcomes. Students who limit their schedules and have a social life have less risk for burnout. Experts encourage students to find a therapist before their symptoms become overwhelming.
There are several ways graduate schools can reduce students’ risks of mental health concerns. Schools can accommodate students’ schedules, aid their career preparations, and improve campus mental health care. Schools can also help by educating students about time management and self-care. Close mentorship is also linked to improved mental health and academic outcomes. Academic advisors are particularly helpful for international students.
Graduate students are a population with unique mental health needs. If schools improve their campus mental health care, they can not only lower the rate of mental health concerns, but also promote academic success. Mental health care on campus can improve all aspects of graduate student life.
Lifelines and Further Resources
- Jed Foundation is an advocacy group for teen and young adult mental health. Students can find information about their legal rights related to mental health.
- The National Grad Crisis Line provides suicide prevention services specifically for graduate students. Individuals can reach the hotline by calling 1-877-GRAD-HLP (1-877-472-3457). People studying abroad can access the hotline through a Skype number.
- ULifeline.org is a service of the Jed Foundation. It offers self-assessment tools to evaluate mental wellness and suitability for counseling. There are also resources for those who need immediate help.
- American Psychological Association has an online section of articles especially for graduate students. Helpful pages include self-care tips and advice for seeking mentorship.
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