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Mental-Health Crisis in Higher Education

When all of us started graduate school, the university warned us about mental health issues. We may think these mental-health issues are just for others who already suffer or at-risk, but everyone of us at-risk of having psychiatric disorders. Statistics show that the number of graduate students with mental disorders has been increasing and many students seek help from counseling services provided in higher education institutions (Eisenberg et al. 2007; Levecque et al. 2017). A recent study surveyed 3,659 PhD students at universities in Belgium (Levecque et al. 2017). The results were terrifying: half of the PhD students reported they had experienced at least two symptoms of poor mental health and one-third of PhD student reported they had experienced at least four symptoms. According to Nathan Vanderford, an assistant dean for academic development at the University of Kentucky “Data such as this should make the issues irrefutable and should, for ethical and moral reasons, force the hand of these entities to take on the responsibility of helping to provide PhD trainees with the support they need to navigate the very stressful journey of earning a PhD.” Therefore, it is prudent to raise the awareness of mental health disorders among graduate students and university faculty and students and also encourage them to open up about their experiences.

Do you know what the most PhD students feel most of the time? Here are some the most common feelings: being under constant strain, unhappiness, depression, sleeping difficulties, not being able to enjoy day-to-day activities, and no work-life balance (Levecque et al. 2017).  Stress also is the most critical impediment to academic learning and performance (Shkulaku 2015). Students may respond to the stress by emotional reactions (fear, anxiety, or depression), cognitive reactions (i.e., their appraisal of stressful situations and strategies), behavioral responses (crying, or smoking and irritability) and physiological reactions (sweating, headaches, weight loss or gain) (Robotham 2008). It raises the question whether students can recognize that they are under stress? And know how to deal with them? Good Questions! But before that, let’s find the causes of these mental-health issues.

PhD students often overwhelmed with demands and control during PhD process due to not having prior experience, needing to take new roles and responsibilities, and entering new relationships. Although the new work environment is stressful enough, there are lots of other reason to freak out: for example, fear of failure, missing deadlines, satisfying your advisor, and making future career decisions. Moreover, too many PhD graduates and too few career opportunities (both in and outside academia) were an important determinant of mental health issues. Did you experience these sources of stress and mental-health issues? I Did L.

Having a clear vision of the path you (PhD student) is taking and of the future career would serve as a protective barrier against mental-health problems and provide senses of meaningfulness and enthusiasm. Therefore, do not let the stress and pressure overcome you, Ask for Help! Love yourself! AND Keep Moving Forward!



Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J., and Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy, 46(4), 868-879.


Robotham, D. (2008). Stress among higher education students: towards a research agenda. Higher Education56(6), 735-746.

Eisenberg, D., Gollust, S. E., Golberstein, E., and Hefner, J. L. (2007). Prevalence and correlates of depression, anxiety, and suicidality among university students. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 77(4), 534–542. doi: 10.1037/0002-9432.77.4.534.




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