High Rates of Depression and Anxiety Among Grad Students

A young graduate student is working in a laboratory. A microscope sits in front of her.Nature Biotechnology has published new research on graduate student mental health. Rates of depression and anxiety among graduate students are over six times higher than rates in the general population. Forty-one percent of surveyed graduate students had moderate to severe anxiety. Symptoms of moderate to severe depression appeared in 39% of students.

Mental Health Concerns Common Among Grad Students

Researchers surveyed 2,279 graduate students via email and social media. Ninety percent of students were pursuing doctoral degrees. The remaining 10% were seeking master’s degrees. The data spanned 234 institutions in 26 countries. Forty percent of respondents were pursuing degrees in science (engineering, physical, or biological).

The surveys presented respondents with questions about their graduate school experiences. Students also took clinically validated depression and anxiety scales.

Mental health symptoms were more prevalent among women than men. Among women, 43% reported anxiety and 41% reported depression. The rates for men were 34% for anxiety and 35% for depression.

Transgender and gender-nonconforming respondents reported the highest rates of mental health concerns. Fifty-five percent experienced anxiety, and 57% experienced depression.

Factors Affecting Grad Student Mental Health

The study did not identify a specific causal link between certain graduate school experiences and mental health concerns. Yet it did identify some common challenges students face. Fifty-six percent of students with anxiety said they did not have a good work-life balance. Among students with depression, 55% said the same.

Half of students with anxiety or depression reported a lack of guidance. They said their advisor or principal investigator did not offer “real” mentorship. The study adds that many universities don’t offer career development programs.

The study’s authors caution that their research may overestimate the prevalence of mental health concerns among graduate students. People experiencing mental health concerns might have been more inclined to respond to the survey.

Even so, other research supports the notion that graduate and professional school students face high rates of mental health concerns. A 2016 study found high rates of depression among medical school students. In that survey, 27% of respondents reported clinically significant depression symptoms. Eleven percent reported suicidal thoughts.


  1. Depression, anxiety high in graduate students, survey shows. (2018, March 6). UT Health Newsroom. Retrieved from https://news.uthscsa.edu/depression-anxiety-high-graduate-students-survey-shows
  2. Graduate students need more mental health support, new study highlights. (2018, March 6). Science. Retrieved from http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2018/03/graduate-students-need-more-mental-health-support-new-study-highlights

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  • Jacqui O.

    March 20th, 2018 at 6:44 PM

    While many people believe that depression is a medical condition which is out of their control, there are prevailing factors which contribute to a depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed state. Many cases of anxiety and depression result from not understanding how to resolve an emotional response in the moment it is triggered.

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