It’s not being talked about, but there’s a mental health crisis in graduate education, and something needs to be done about it. This is the main message from a recently published global survey of Ph.D. and master’s students. The study, titled “Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education,” includes anecdotes, testimonials, and discussions about the matter and reinforce the need for change in the higher institutions of learning.
The online survey data includes 2279 responses, mostly from Ph.D. candidates based in 234 institutions across 26 countries. Forty percent of the respondents are in the biological and physical sciences and engineering,
The results show alarmingly high rates of depression and anxiety among graduate students.
Forty-one percent of respondents showed moderate to severe anxiety, while 39% showed moderate to severe depression. These figures are more than six times the prevalence found in studies of the general population.
There is also a notable difference based on gender. About one-third of male respondents reported experiencing each condition, compared with about 40% of female respondents and more than half of the 42 transgender and gender-nonconforming respondents.
Having a healthy work-life balance and a supporting relationship with one’s principal investigator (PI) contributes to a graduate student’s mental health.
About half of the students experiencing depression or anxiety reported not having supportive relationships with their PIs. More than half of the respondents with depression and anxiety didn’t feel that they had a good work-life balance. The study includes suggested intervention strategies to address the problem, including enhanced access to mental health support, a call for cultural change, and a call to action. The authors wrote:
“Our studies show a high prevalence of anxiety and depression in a diverse graduate student sample. The strikingly high rates of anxiety and depression support a call to action to establish and/or expand mental health and career development resources for graduate students through enhanced resources within career development offices, faculty training and a change in the academic culture.”
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