Study shows grad students at greater risk for mental health issues
A Nature Biotechnology study claims graduate students across the country are more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety compared to the general population. Nature Biotechnology attributes these mental health concerns to social isolation, abstract work, job-search pressure and feelings of inadequacy.
Laura Monschau, a psychologist at the University of Michigan Counseling and Psychological Services psychologist for the Rackham Graduate School, wrote in an email interview that CAPS campus statistics are consistent with the trends in the Nature Biotechnology study.
“We are also seeing a sustained increase in graduate students accessing CAPS services with issues of anxiety and depression identified as top concerns,” Monschau wrote.
Monschau said 31 percent of CAPS services were provided to graduate students, of the 4,638 students serviced in total. CAPS has begun to target graduate students by providing mental health services specific to their college, positioning CAPS services within the specific University graduate schools. These embedded psychologists allow professionals to tailor their services to the unique graduate experiences of students.
“In tandem with the extensive work at the CAPS main office, the Rackham embedded psychologist role provides counseling and outreach/work programming around themes unique to graduate student life, including imposter syndrome, increased competitiveness of academic positions post-degree, stress around work/life balance as a graduate students and feelings of burnout and vulnerability,” Monschau wrote.
Monschau emphasized the different experiences of graduate students. Students from international and underrepresented communities, she said, are reported to have increased mental health concerns related to microaggressions.
“We see many graduate students being forced to navigate both the inevitable and increasing pressures of academic life demands embedded in a volatile and stressful overarching political environment,” Monschau wrote. “All of these stressors are greatly impacting graduate students and the intersectionality of these pressures are greatly increasing vulnerability to stress, lack of motivation, diminished concentration and burnout, but to anxiety and depression as well.”
Public Health graduate student Alexandra Babcock, a graduate student leader for Wolverine Support Network, said she doesn’t think an increase in mental health problems is as much an issue as awareness of these concerns.
“I think a lot of the problems and struggles have existed and people have been suffering in silence,” Babcock said. “I think it’s what people are going to be uncovering.”
Babcock said the rigorous academics of the University, research and searching for jobs along with personal pressure are risk factors she's identified.
“I think striking the balance can be very overwhelming as well as the struggles of people moving to a new area,” Babcock said. “They move to a new location and you have to restart your life and that new and uncertain thing and not knowing what your resources are … Coupled with the rigors of the program and the academia are challenging when you don’t have a support system right away.”
Babcock said she thinks the University is aware of and values students’ mental health and is working to make sure those resources are available for students. She said some schools — such as Rackham — have embedded CAPS resources, but hopes more schools can have psychological services.
“The pressure in the future will be to make sure the resources are adequate and increasing the resources available to students,” Babcock said. “I think students see a lot of the organizations are flexible and it’s just making students feel comfortable when they need support or help.”
Social Work student Catherine Perez, a member of “We Are People Too,” an organization supporting Social Work student mental health, said she sees resources for anxiety and depression among young adults improving.
“I think that now it’s being diagnosed more and people are actually seeking mental health services,” Perez said. “I think the stigma has decreased a little bit.”
Perez said mental health can specifically be a concern in the Social Work community because students are tasked with taking care of others and forgetting to take care of themselves.
“Mental health matters,” Perez said. “Social Work students are ‘superheroes’ helping their clients and we fail to have self-care for ourselves and we just wanted to build a community to support each other and talk about our own struggles with mental health.”
Perez said mental health concerns stem from a build-up of attempting to balance life and work and students feel there is too much to do and too little time.
“Especially among grad students and Ph.D. students, we are supposed to be very self-driven and there isn’t too much support from the staff, whereas undergrads have more support; you have to navigate it more on your own,” Perez said.