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Grad Students and Their Mental Health

“It’s probably not a big deal. I’m probably overreacting,” thought Sara, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, when her dark thoughts were not going away. She was sitting in her university’s counseling center at the time (What colleges must do to promote mental health for graduate students, The Conversation, August 3, 2018).

Not all graduate students have the courage to seek help for a mental health problem. But those that do – like Sara – should know that they’re not alone in living with and working through mental health problems while in school.

With the stressors of graduate school life, including high work demands and work-family conflicts, half of all grad students in the United States experience psychological distress. Studies have shown that grad students consider suicide at a rate of three percent higher than their adult counterparts; seven percent of graduate students report that they have seriously considered suicide compared to four percent of the general population; and four in 10 of them report that their mental or emotional health affected their academic performance.

At the same time, women in graduate school regularly experience sexual and gender-based harassment, which is directly impacting their mental health. According to a recent National Academies report, 20 to 50 percent of women students encounter or experience sexually harassing conduct in academia. These experiences can increase their symptoms of a host of mental health challenges like depression, stress and anxiety.

In addition, many students worry about the stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment, leading less and less students to seek help—especially students of color. According to a forthcoming article in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Asian and Asian-American students are particularly unlikely to seek and receive treatment.

But when we know what to say and what to do, those barriers that stigma creates begin to breakdown.

Administrators and grad students alike should take steps to address these challenges on the institutional and individual level. Mental Health First Aid training can give grad students and their teachers the skills they need to help one another and point them to appropriate professional care. When more adults are trained in how to help, more people can receive the necessary support.

Mental Health First Aid for Higher Education is specifically tailored for the university setting, teaching students, professors and other faculty to notice and respond to mental health and addiction challenges commonly experienced in higher education settings. Get trained in Mental Health First Aid and #BeTheDifference in the lives of those you love.