Mental health and work-life balance among grad students

Work-life balance is a concept known by everyone; however, a few people can say that they are 100% successful in practicing a work-life balance. Every person I have asked about this says that work-life balance is important but that they are not the best example of this practice.

All of us know that a grad student has a big amount of workload and many people to please and that sometimes we don’t have the time to rest, relax, and practice the activities we enjoyed the most outside of academia.

Among graduate students, there are more vulnerable groups. For example, a few months ago, I read an article about a big rate of suicides among veterinarians, that struck me. This study was based on information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in January 2019. Some of the reasons they found for this rise are high levels of occupational stress related to long working hours, client expectations, unexpected outcomes, communicating bad news, poor work-life balance, high workloads, rising veterinary care costs, professional isolation, student debt, and lack of senior support.

In view of this reality, some Veterinary Schools have started to offer special counseling and stress management services to veterinary students, in order to provide more effective ways for improving their mental health and train them towards healthy stress management behaviors. Researchers have identified that there is a need for special programs for veterinary students, due to the differences between veterinary programs and other educational programs.

Many mental health disorders like depression and anxiety can affect our lives. A poor work-life balance can lead us to a mental health disorder. Even the impostor syndrome can take a toll on grad students if students do their best to impress and don’t find ways to manage their stress to improve in their performance.

We all need to be aware of these issues and try to find the solutions that fit better for each individually. We should try to practice the simple activities that provide us enjoyment and happiness. I chose to write about this topic because I think is something that we need to discuss among grad students. I would like to know your thoughts about work-life balance and your strategy to achieve it.

Do you work during the weekends or after 5pm during weekdays? Should Virginia Tech improve their mental health services and social activities for graduate students? Do you think that we as students seek help when we need it, or we isolate ourselves?

 

References:

  1. Tomasi, S.E. et.al., (2019). Suicide among veterinarians in the United States from 1979 through 2015. JAVMA, Vol. 254, No.1. https://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/pdf/10.2460/javma.254.1.104
  2. Kim, R.W. et.al., (2017). Toward an evidence-based approach to stress management for veterinarians and veterinary students. JAVMA, Vol. 251, No.9.
  3. Gelberg, H. and Gelberg, S. (2005). Stress Management Interventions for Veterinary Students. JVME 32(2).

2 Comments

Filed under Preparing the Future Professoriate

2 Responses to Mental health and work-life balance among grad students

  1. zookat13

    As someone living with mental illness, I have relied on and benefited a lot from Cook Counseling Center’s services during my time here as a graduate student. They are by far the friendliest and most caring mental health professionals that I have ever seen, and have really helped me get things sorted out and stable to the point where my illness no longer interferes with my daily life.

    I think that there are a lot of mental health services for graduate students, but the stigma against mental illness and seeking help likely prevents many students from using them. It really seems to depend on the culture within a student’s lab or department, and how desperate the student is for help. I’m very lucky that my advisor is supportive of me getting help, but also respects my privacy by not asking for details or mentioning anything to other students.

    Along with professional help, finding a good work-life balance has been key in maintaining my health. I try to only work in the evenings or on weekends when I have a deadline approaching, or if I have coursework that I would rather do at home so I can focus on my research during the day. It has gotten easier to avoid long hours and working weekends as I have gotten further along in my program and am taking fewer courses. Again, my advisor has been very supportive of work-life balance, and regularly reminds us all to take time off. She also lets us know that she maintains a reasonable balance by discussing things outside of work, like asking that we shift an early meeting time so that she has a chance to go to them gym beforehand, or mentioning that she’ll be out camping during the weekend and will not be checking email. Her support and the general lab culture against excessive working hours have been incredibly helpful for maintaining a life outside of work.

  2. Excellent post! I appreciate the viewpoint. As an undergraduate student particularly I felt the pressure of school overtaking my whole world. It seemed difficult to make time for work, fun, or anything except schoolwork. After a change-of-major I found that I was able to balance things much better. I realized I was trying to force a mismatched career into a future that I didn’t truly want, and to be honest, wasn’t cut out for. I am grateful that the University had counseling services available. After a few sessions with a counselor, I felt that I had my grip back on things and was able to move forward. I have recommended these services to other many times since. Thanks again for the post.

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