More than a third of grad students show signs of depression, survey finds

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More than a third of grad students show signs of depression, survey finds

Graduate students are more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety, compared to the general population, finds a study published in Nature Biotechnology.

The study’s authors surveyed 2,279 graduate students from 235 institutions across 26 countries via social media and direct email about their mental health. The respondents’ answers were measured on clinically validated scales for anxiety and depression, writes Colleen Flaherty for Inside Higher Ed.

About 39% of respondents scored in the moderate-to-severe depression range, compared to just 6% of the general population, according to the study. More than half of respondents who experience anxiety (56%) or depression (55%) did not report a good work-life balance. Among the students with anxiety or depression, 50% did not agree that their mentor provided “real” mentorship, and more than half did not feel valued or supported professionally by their mentor, writes Flaherty.


of surveyed grad students scored in the moderate-to-severe depression range

Higher education depends on a “vulnerable population” of graduate students who support faculty research, says Nathan Vanderford, one of the study’s authors. The high rates of anxiety and depression among grad students should push college leaders to double down on career outcomes and mental health care resources, says Vanderford, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky.

The study recommends the following steps to address the graduate student mental health crisis.

1: Empower faculty and staff to address mental health concerns. Ask mental health professionals to train your faculty and staff to recognize and respond to students’ mental health needs, the study suggests.

2: Expand career development support. Faculty and administrators need more resources and training to guide grad students through the increasingly competitive job market, the study’s authors write. Academics should also work to address the fear that mental health issues can jeopardize a person’s chance at tenure, they add.

3: Encourage work-life balance. Graduate students can feel a great deal of pressure to see a return on their educational investment and throw themselves completely into their work, psychiatrist Dion Metzger told The Atlantic in 2016. Faculty need to encourage students to make time for self-care and practice a mindful work ethic, the study’s authors recommend (Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, 3/8/18; Patterson, The Atlantic, 7/6/16). 

Read more about student mental health

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