Graduate student mental health

Results and recommendations from a needs assessment of psychology graduate students at the University of Ottawa

The report presents the results and recommendations from the needs assessment of mental health services available to graduate students in psychology at the University of Ottawa.

“Based on the findings of the needs assessment, we recommend the following actions to address the mental health needs of graduate students:

Improving the dissemination of available mental health services to graduate students would be extremely valuable, as several available resources were virtually unknown to students, professors, or staff. A regularly updated mental-health resource guide for oncampus and community mental health resources is in development. We recommend that the Faculty of Social Sciences (FSS) make an action plan for ongoing and systematic dissemination of the guide (e.g., through their website, on orientation day with new students, during mandatory courses, and appended to course syllabi.

It would also be worthwhile to increase the accessibility of services. For example, by helping students to be able to afford mental health services. We recommend that the Graduate Student Association (GSAÉD) negotiate for improved insurance coverage for mental health. We also recommend that the FSS advocate for financial relief for upper-year students (e.g., part-time status, tuition waiver). Similarly, where possible, we recommend that the FSS seek sources of funding for graduate students that are not tied to research productivity.

We also recommend that the FSS hire a full-time mental health professional specifically for its graduate students. It would be especially valuable if that is able to meet the need for evidence-based services for more severe mental health difficulties.

To help students better manage the demands of their program, we recommend that the FSS conduct focus groups with graduate students to identify changes at the program level that could remediate students’ programrelated stress while maintaining program integrity. One such possible change might be to implement more passfail courses. We also recommend that the FSS examine ways to reduce stress arising from the thesis supervisorsupervisee relationship (e.g., through supervisor training and annual evaluation).

Relatedly, we recommend that the FSS clarify communication with students (e.g., about teaching/research assistantships, employment outside the university, changing thesis supervisors, mediating supervisorsupervisee disputes, or research expectations). We also recommend that workshops be delivered by the FSS to help graduate students develop specific skills (e.g., time management, assertiveness, mindfulness, stress management).

Finally, helping students to overcome stigma could remove a barrier between students and mental health service use. One major way to reduce this stigma could be through increased structured self-disclosure by professors about their own use of services. Stigma could also be reduced faculty-wide if the FSS were to offer a mental health stigma-reduction workshop to its graduate students (e.g., “The Inquiring Mind’’ workshop)”

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