Graduate students face a variety of stressors, such as increased time spent on schoolwork, financial stress, graduate/teaching assistantships, career planning, and family issues (1,2,3).
Other stresssors include increased time spent on research and often starting at a new school, both of which can increase isolation; graduate school often requires shifting work style that goes from semester to semester to projects that can take months to years, with limited breaks in between. Graduate students also have to manage work style, personality, and other relationship dynamics with their labmates and advisors; whom they may not have known when entering their program. These and other factors can impact graduate student mental health.
What are some mental health concerns among graduate students?
According to the American College Health Association, graduate students experienced the following mental health concerns in the previous 12 months (4):
- 63% of students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety.
- 58% of students reported feeling very lonely.
- 46% of students reported that academics had been traumatic or very difficult to handle.
- 41% of students felt so depressed it was difficult to function.
- 24% of students reported that stress had negatively influenced their academics.
What factors could improve graduate student wellbeing?
One study found that top 10 predictors of graduate student wellbeing include overall health, living conditions, social support, sleep, academic preparation, career prospects, feeling valued and included, advisor relationship, academic engagement, financial confidence (5).
What is a potential self care plan for graduate students?
Daly and colleagues suggest a self care strategies unique to graduate students (6). Graduate students could consider customizing a self care plan based on these domains and example strategies (6).
- I would encourage students to consider these healthy nutrition strategies for mental health
- Exercise on a regular basis (4–5 × week)
- Take a walk
- Posture adjustment
- Get at least 6 h of sleep per night
- Allow for internet and video game breaks
- Engage in ‘brain breaks’: reading novel, doodling
- Maintain realistic goals and expectations regarding school and grades
- Break down large tasks into small tasks
- Spend time doing something active with <significant other> on weekend
- Spend 1 day a week with cohort friends (no school work, actual fun)
- Schedule facetime with partner
- Make note of daily gratitude
- CRY and deep breath
- Listen to music to calm down/ release whatever you are feeling
- Write for fun
- Spend weekends in nature
- Practice mindful positivity: look for the best in a situation
- Sing during class breaks
- Go to church (Sundays) or read several Bible verses
- Schedule breaks to avoid burnout (90-min on, 10-min off, etc.)
- Ask cohort members for advice
- Make lists and stick to them with due dates
- Celebrate task accomplishment
- Adjust plan, time management, seeking out counseling support.
Other strategies to consider:
- Daily routines, and short term hobbies and goals outside of work ( fitness/nutrition goals, cooking/recipes, arts and crafts, sports, etc) can help create a sense of control which can help balance some of the stress from uncertainties associated with graduate school.
- Work on creating smaller tasks out of bigger projects.
- Regularly meeting via support groups with other graduate students or students in your field.
- Setting up a regularly scheduled meetings with your advisor can help establish structure, accountability, and increase focus.
- Identify people you find supportive or enjoy being around and set up regularly scheduled times to meet up either in person or electronically (friends, family, colleagues, etc).
- Avoidance of drugs, excessive alcohol, excessive caffeine.
- If you have difficulties despite these strategies: Go to our mental health support options page: https://ccs.osu.edu/mental-health-support-options/
By R. Ryan Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist
Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.
- Mazzola JJ, Walker EJ, Shockley KM, Spector PE. (2011). Examining stress in graduate assistants: Combining qualitative and quantitative survey methods. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 5(3), 198-211.
- Oswalt SB, Riddock CC. (2007). What to do about being overwhelmed: graduate students, stress, and university services. College Student Affairs Journal, 2007, 27 (l), 24-44.
- Fox JA. (2008). The troubled student and campus violence: new approaches. Chronicles of Higher Education, 55(12), A42-A43.
- ACHA grad student survey data: (from January 22, 2020 Michael J. Stebleton Lisa Kaler. Promoting Graduate Student Mental Health: The Role of Student Affairs Professionals and Faculty. JCC Connexions, Vol. 6, No. 1. Feb. 2020 https://www.naspa.org/blog/promoting-graduate-student-mental-health-the-role-of-student-affairs-professionals-and-faculty
- University of California Berkeley. Graduate Student Happiness & Well-Being Report 2014. http://ga.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/wellbeingreport_2014.pdf Page 128. Accessed November 2020.
- Self care strategies in grad school. Daly BD, Gardner RA. A Case Study Exploration into the Benefits of Teaching Self-Care to School Psychology Graduate Students [published online ahead of print, 2020 Oct 23]. Contemp Sch Psychol. 2020;1-12. doi:10.1007/s40688-020-00328-3