Mental Health in Grad School

Prevalence

Major depressive and anxiety disorders are becoming more common and more severe among university students, and the vast majority of students who experience suicidal ideation do not report these events to friends, family, or physicians.  Approximately three quarters of lifetime mental disorders have an initial onset by age 24.  According to the 2008 National College Health Assessment, more than one third of surveyed undergraduates reported “feeling so depressed it was difficult to function” at least once in the previous year. Nearly one in 10 reported “seriously considering attempting suicide” in the previous year. A separate study of 26,000 students from 70 college and universities in 2006 reported 6% of undergrads and 4% of graduate students reported seriously considering suicide at least once in the previous 12 months. The national analysis also reported college students as having a higher prevalence of alcohol use disorders compared to non-college population of same age.

Lost human capital

Early-onset major depressive disorder adversely affects educational attainment of women, but not men.  For example, a randomly selected woman with early-onset major depressive disorder could expect future earnings to be 12-18% lower than a randomly selected woman whose onset of depressive disorder occurred after age 21 or not at all.  Over 14% of HS dropouts and almost 5% of college dropouts have a psychiatric disorder.

#mentalhealth

Causes

In 1985, only 19% of respondents to a University of Michigan study reported seeking help in year before interview. By 1992, that number increased to 25%.  By 2002 that had increased yet again to 41%.  These increases suggest that the sharp upturn in depressive disorders may be due to increased help-seeking behavior.  However, among the general population, incidences of depression and/or anxiety has remained stable, so additional increases are probably due to specific college factors.

Other reasons people avoid seeking help may be a lack of sufficient insurance, perceived lack of privacy as well as public and personal stigma, and simply being unaware of available resources.  International students are especially at risk and the student’s relationship with their mentor and/or advisor has a significant impact on their mental health status throughout college.

How to move forward

Pay attention to signs of depression an anxiety, in others as well as in yourself.  Transient lack of motivation, physical exhaustion, and loss of appetite may seem normal.  But when these, and others (e.g. change in sleep patterns), interfere with your ability to do everyday activities, it may be time to see a counselor or doctor.

Some things we need to remind ourselves: it’s okay to take breaks.  It’s okay to talk to people about how you’re feeling.  It’s okay to find ways to reduce your work load.  You always have time for physical activity and/or a hobby.

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