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Unique factors affecting mental health


Researchers found that worries about the competitive academic job market, poor career prospects, lack of control, inadequate support from colleagues, work-life imbalance and a difficult supervisor-student relationship were all linked to psychological distress. Combined, all the sources of graduate school stress build up into emotional adversity that can affect student performance.[1]Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J., & Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy, 46(4), 868-879.

A connection between academic workload and perceived stress exists among graduate students, with students who spent a great deal of time in classes and labs and working on assignments reporting high levels of stress.[2]Kausar R. (2010). Perceived stress, academic workloads, and use of coping strategies by university students. Journal of Behavioural Sciences, 20(1), 31 -34.[3]Stecker T. Well-being in an academic environment. (2004). Med Educ. 38, 465-478. Furthermore, graduate students often lack healthy balance in their personal lives, with many focusing the majority of their attention on academic work to the exclusion of hobbies, interests and personal relationships.

In many instances, graduate students are detached from the social and cultural activities often targeted to the undergraduate population on college campuses.

Graduate students often report higher rates of stress than undergraduate students.[4]Wyatt, T., & Oswalt, S. B. (2013). Comparing mental health
issues among undergraduate and graduate students. American journal of health education, 44(2), 96-107.
The common sources of stress reported by graduate students include schoolwork, finances, graduate/teaching assistantships, career planning and family issues.[5]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.
[6]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.[7]Fox JA. (2008). The troubled student and campus violence: new approaches. Chronicles of Higher Education, 55(12), A42-A43. Stress management programs targeting the common sources of stress should be provided to graduate students. Specific challenges to graduate school should be openly discussed along with the various forms of assistance available on campus. Similarly, graduate advisers can play an integral role.

It is documented that among graduate students who experienced a stress-related or emotional problem that significantly affected their academic performance over the past year, those who had a better relationship with their advisers were more likely to use counselling services. Because graduate students report high stress levels due to financial reasons, universities should ensure graduate students have access to adequate mental health insurance and high-quality counselling services.

Graduate students’ relationships with their advisers or principal investigators are also known to impact the quality of their experience. In an international study across 26 countries among graduate students with anxiety or depression, half did not agree their immediate mentors provided “real” mentorship (about one-third of both groups agreed with that statement). Responses were roughly similar to questions about whether advisers and principal investigators provided ample support and whether they positively impacted students’ emotional mental well-being. More than half of those who experienced anxiety or depression did not agree their advisers or principal investigators were assets to their careers or that they felt valued by their mentor.[8]Evans, T. M., Bira, L., Gastelum, J. B., Weiss, L. T., & Vanderford, N. L. (2018). Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education. Nature biotechnology, 36(3), 282.

References   [ + ]

1. Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J., & Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy, 46(4), 868-879.
2. Kausar R. (2010). Perceived stress, academic workloads, and use of coping strategies by university students. Journal of Behavioural Sciences, 20(1), 31 -34.
3. Stecker T. Well-being in an academic environment. (2004). Med Educ. 38, 465-478.
4. Wyatt, T., & Oswalt, S. B. (2013). Comparing mental health
issues among undergraduate and graduate students. American journal of health education, 44(2), 96-107.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. Fox JA. (2008). The troubled student and campus violence: new approaches. Chronicles of Higher Education, 55(12), A42-A43.
8. Evans, T. M., Bira, L., Gastelum, J. B., Weiss, L. T., & Vanderford, N. L. (2018). Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education. Nature biotechnology, 36(3), 282.
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