We’re just starting to delve deeper into how depression, anxiety and other mental health problems are impacting college students and how to provide the necessary treatment services and resources for prevention on campuses.

But, the graduate student population has largely been overlooked—even though research suggests these students experience significant challenges and mental health issues.

Staggering Statistics

According to the Big Ten Student Suicide Study, a 10-year analysis of 261 suicides at 12 Midwestern universities from 1980 to 1990, graduate students were at greater risk for suicide.

A more recent study, the Berkeley Graduate Student Mental Health Survey, investigated the well-being of both American and international students, revealing various concerns. The authors found that within one year:

• About 45 percent experienced “an emotional or stress-related problem that significantly affected their well being and/or academic performance.”

• 10 percent “seriously considered suicide.”

• Nearly 25 percent didn’t know about the university’s mental health services (with even less international students).

• Female students “were more likely to report feeling hopeless, exhausted, sad, or depressed.”

Unique Stressors

Grad students face a host of unique challenges that can put them at higher risk for stress and other mental health concerns. According to Dr. Jerald Kay (2008), these are some potential stressors:

• “More demanding academic studies
• Less formally structured and supervised environment
• Compared to undergraduates, likely to be struggling with more serious relationships?
• More likely to have young children
• Higher risk for suicide statistically
• Less likely to live in supervised residence
• More financial stress from limited stipend support?”

As you can imagine, international students face an even greater set of stressors. On top of the typical stress and pressures of grad school, these students have to adjust to a new language and culture; deal with financial worries; navigate a foreign education system; and grapple with feelings of loneliness and being homesick (Hyun, Quinn, Madon & Lustig, 2007).

Seeking Help

The majority of grad students actually don’t get help.

While some students consider seeking services, they don’t pursue them. For instance, the Berkeley study found that although nearly 52 percent thought about seeking services, only 27 percent did.

Also, international students are less likely to seek mental health services because of lack of knowledge about services and the stigma associated with mental illness and seeking help.

Unfortunately, stigma remains a significant barrier to treatment for all students.

Fortunately, however, organizations like the JED Foundation are working to decrease stigma with such Web sites as Half of Us that includes interviews with artists along with an anonymous mental health screening.

Colleges also offer free sessions (or at reasonable cost) at their counseling centers, support groups or other resources to help students. Browse your school’s Web site for more information on resources. And of course, though it’s easier said than done—take good care of yourself. Pay close attention to how you’re feeling, both physically and emotionally.

And importantly, talk to someone—whether it’s family, friends or faculty.

Check out these resources

Psych Central’s College Survival Guide: Though aimed at undergrads, graduate students will also find helpful information.

Are You Lonely?: Grad students can feel isolated as they work tirelessly (and often alone) on meeting the demands of their programs. This is an excellent article on loneliness and ways to overcome it.

If you need immediate help, call 1-877-GRAD-HLP, a toll-free, 24/7 hotline. Sponsored by Grad Resources, this hotline allows you to speak anonymously with a counselor who’s trained in grad issues.

A Survival Guide for Ethnic Minority Graduate Students: In addition to offering helpful advice on overcoming challenges as an ethnic minority student, this has valuable information for all grad students.

References

Hyun, J., Quinn, B., Madon, T., & Lustig S. (2007). Mental Health Need, Awareness, and Use of Counseling Services Among International Graduate Students. Journal of American College Health, 56 (2), 109-118.

Kay, J. (2008, May). The State of College Mental Health. Presented at the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.