A Review – Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education: Blog 8

A recent study found that graduate students are “six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety as compared to the general public” (https://www.nature.com/articles/nbt.4089).

In my last blog I talked about how being in a goal driven society that doesn’t adequately acknowledge successes (instead quickly moves toward a new goal) can contribute to the unhealthy mental state that is persisting throughout higher education. When I was looking for background information on the general state of mental health in graduate education I came across a study that was honestly startling. Entitled ‘Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education’, the study was published in Nature’s Biotechnology Journal and identifies a number of concerning statistics related to graduate student’s mental health.

Polling 2,279 students, from 26 countries, 234 institutions, and a wide range of disciplines (biological/physical sciences – 38%, engineering – 2%, humanities/social sciences – 56%, other – 4%) this study found that graduate students are more than 6 times as likely to experience depression or anxiety than the normal population.  Figure 1, shows how major factors (work-life balance, faculty mentor relationship, and gender) can influence a student’s mental health.

The study went on to recommend intervention methods to help alleviate some of the stresses graduate students are experiencing. These include enhancing access to mental health support and making a concerted effort to change the culture that is leading to these stresses in the first place. Personally, I feel that enhancing access to support systems is very important, but until higher education can fix the underlying causes of these mental health issues they will continue to persist. I believe the first step would be to assess the role that faculty mentors take on and contrast it to the role these mentors should be taking. If faculty are expected to help handle quality of life mentorship in addition to their roles in scientific mentorship, then they should be better prepared to handle these responsibilities. If not, some effort should be made to connect students with a mentor that can bridge the gap.

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