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Graduate Student Mental Health Issues


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Title: Graduate Student Mental Health Issues

Graduate Student Mental Health Issues
  • A presentation at the 2008 Meeting Canadian
    Association of Graduate Schools Edmonton, Alberta
  • Lisa Brandes, Ph.D. Assistant Dean for Student
  • Director, Graduate Student Life McDougal Graduate
    Student Center Graduate School of Arts
    Sciences Yale University

  • Business Presentation online _at_ CAGS, bib,
  • Crisis in Student Mental Health
  • Graduate Student Mental Health Studies
  • Need to Act
  • Mental Health Centers
  • Faculty
  • Graduate School administrators
  • Students
  • Examples Promising Practices throughout

  • Richard Kadison, (2004), Chief of Mental Health,
    Harvard University describes the crisis
  • Rising rates of serious Mental Illness on
    university campuses, in order of common
  • Depression- explosive growth in diagnoses
    treatment, with SSRIs other psychotropic drugs
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Substance Abuse, including self-medication for
    other MH problems
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Eating Disorders
  • Impulsive behaviors including sexual promiscuity
  • Suicide

Mental Health Crisis for Grad Students Grad
  • Preexisting Mental Health Issues
  • Young Adult Onset Mental Illness
  • bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia onset
    in early-mid twenties
  • Substance abuse dependency
  • Isolation of Graduate Student Life adds to
  • Grad Student Perfectionism one-sided view of
    self perfect or nothing
  • Stresses on Diverse Student Population At Risk

Recent Studies of Graduate Student Mental Health
  • National College Health Assessment (NCHA),
    annual- includes Grad Student respondents
  • MIT Mental Health Report 2001 (general)
  • UC Berkeley 2004 Graduate Student Mental Health
    Survey (N3121)
  • 2006 Berkeley Study Article (Hyun et al, JCSD)
  • University of California Report 2006
    (system-wide, all students)
  • UC Irvine 2008 Graduate Student Survey (N1025)
  • UC Davis Grad Student Survey 2008

Findings of Recent Studies- Serious GS Mental
Health Problems
  • Higher Incidence among Grad Students (GS) than
  • Nearly 30 (UCI) to 45 (Berkeley) of GS report
    serious emotional or stress related problem that
    affected well-being a/o academic performance
  • 54 GS reported being so depressed it was
    difficult to function (vs. 45 undergrads similar
  • Suicide
  • 9.9 GS seriously considered suicide within last
    12 months (Berkeley)
  • 30 had ever thought about suicide 8 ever
    attempted (UCI)

Awareness Access
  • Lower Awareness of Campus Mental Health Services
    (CMHS) among Grad Students
  • 25 (Berkeley) to 32 (UCI) of GS not aware of
  • Males International Students less aware of
  • Access Use of CMHS- Regular growing use
  • 21 of GS seen in past year (Yale)
  • up from 15 from 5 years ago (Yale)- crisis
  • 27 use services/year (Berkeley) 25 seen during
    grad school (UCI)

University of California Student Mental Health
Committee. Final Report. 2006.
  • High Risk Groups (p. 4)
  • Graduate students as a group have been
    identified as a population at higher risk for
    mental health concerns. The level of stress for
    graduate students is magnified by their relative
    isolation from the broader components of campus
    life, the intense academic pressures of their
    advanced studies, and the increased presence of
    family and financial obligations.

Special GS populations
  • International students less aware less likely
    to use CMHS (Berkeley)
  • Females- report more emotional distress less
    faculty contact than males (Berkeley)
  • STEM students less aware less likely to access
    services during graduate school (UCI)
  • UC Report 2006- recognized as high risk
    International students, LGBT and racial/ethnic
    minorities who can feel alienated from general
    campus populations.

Barriers to GS Accessing Campus Mental Health
  • Awareness Access
  • Lower Awareness of Services Available to them
  • Perception that services are mainly for
  • GS Less connected on campus so more use
    impersonal info sources- web, email, posters
  • Hours/Location of CMH Services
  • Cost/Limitations on Services or Prescription
  • GS Prefer Counseling label to Mental Health

Barriers- Nature of Graduate School Experience
  • Student Perception that Stresses are Normal for
    graduate school
  • 60 in UCI study
  • Confidentiality Issues/Fear
  • Cultural Stigma, esp. for some International

Consequences of GS Mental Health Problems if not
prevented or treated
  • Graduate Student suffering lack of support
  • Academic Degree Progress Delays Attrition
  • Reduced student research teaching productivity
  • Student Suicide self-harm
  • Harm to others- Violence Shootings
  • Virginia Tech 2007 Concordia University 1992
    Dawson College 2006.
  • Graduate students as campus killers 2008
    Northern Illinois Univ 2006 Cape Town 2003 Case
    Western 2000 Arkansas 1996 San Diego State
    1991 Iowa

  • General Recommendations
  • Focus on Prevention Wellness
  • Normalize grad students having problems seeking
  • Deal with issues before crises occur
  • Partnerships- Mental Health Centers, Faculty, GS
    Staff, Students
  • Adequate Treatment Services for those with
    serious mental health issues
  • Crisis Management Responses Academic policies
  • MultiLevel MultiProgram approach
  • Share research promising practices with others

What University Mental Health Centers
Counselors Can Do - Grad Schools should ask them
to do
  • 1. Outreach
  • Mention Graduate Students explicitly in MH
    Services publicity/Websites
  • Health Wellness newsletters websites for Grad
  • Emails Brochures on GS issues distributed to GS
  • Stress Confidentiality of Services

Promising Practice Wellness Focus University of
British Columbia Grad Guide 2008 http//www.grad.u
  • Student Health Well-Being Staying healthy and
    safe is a very important part of your academic
    success. The rigorous demands of a graduate
    program can make it difficult at times to make
    your well-being a priority, but UBC provides many
    resources to help students stay physically,
    emotionally, spiritually and socially balanced.
    Take a few moments to read over the resources
    listed below to familiarize yourself with the
    programs available.
  • -Various resources/links follow in print/website

What Mental Health Centers Counselors Can Do
  • 2. Access
  • Later hours/walkin clinics/locations
  • 24 hour Crisis Line
  • Review Prescription policies MH coverage,
    including out-of-area
  • Online services- anonymous screenings, how to
    help others, signs of distress
  • Referral to/links with Community Mental Health

What Mental Health Centers Can Do
  • 3. Graduate Student Specific MH Services
  • Assessment of GS MH needs usage
  • MH Staff knowledgeable about Grad Student Issues
  • Dedicated Mental Health/Counseling Liaisons to
    Graduate Schools
  • Information/Participation in Graduate School New
    Student Orientation
  • Special groups for grad students- thesis support,
    relationships, procrastination, writers block,

What Mental Health Centers Can Do
  • 4. Crisis Management Protocols, Referrals
    Mandated evaluations
  • On-call services for reporting dealing with
    grad students in crisis or distress
  • Detailed medical leave policies academic
    guidelines for students in distress
  • Leave vs. stay registered in treatment
  • Academic progress contingent on xx

What Mental Health Centers can do
  • 5. Collaborate w/Schools Departments on
  • Workshops Stress Management, Perfectionism,
    Sleep, Procrastination
  • Thesis/Dissertation Support Writing Groups
    (Harvard, CGS Completion grants)
  • Outreach Programs for Families, Women, Men,
    Intl Students, Scientists

Faculty Issues in Grad Student Mental Health

Faculty Issues in Grad Student Mental Health
  • Faculty as Front-Line Counselor?
  • Grad students fear or discomfort revealing some
    personal issues
  • Faculty unprepared or unwilling
  • Infrequent supervisor-student contact in some
    fields (H/SS)

Faculty Issues in Grad Student Mental Health
  • Confidentiality Concerns
  • Student fears
  • Health Privacy laws notifications
  • Single faculty supervisor model
  • Example Harvard Chemistry Dept. Suicides 1998- 1
    superviser/1 lab issue

What Faculty Supervisors Degree Programs Can Do
  • Oversight Institute more regular faculty contact
    regular student reviews
  • CAGS Completion Report 2004, Recommendation 4
  • CAGS Principles for Graduate Student Supervision
  • Multiple Supervisors Committees
  • Mentoring Discuss, recognize reward good
    advising mentoring
  • Clear guidelines for troubled students
  • Academic progress leave policies
  • Procedures to deal with monitor students in
    academic trouble risk of failure
  • Intermediate degree- leave with something

What Faculty Degree Programs Can Do
  • Promote Wellness
  • Whole Student vs the 24/7 researcher
  • Get a Life outside the lab/library/classroom
  • Students more resilient to ups downs
  • Be Observant Know Signs of Distress in Students
  • Know who to call for students in distress or if

Promising Practice Signs of Distress UCSB
Student Handbook- College Mental Health,
Wellness http//
  • Here are some of the signs that you or a friend
    could be in distress and need to see a counselor
  • behavioral or emotional change someone who
    doesn't seem like themselves
  • withdrawal from others and/or favorite activities
  • change in hygiene or appearance, not taking care
    of oneself
  • decline in academic performance
  • alcohol or drug abuse
  • excessive or inappropriate anger
  • bizarre thoughts or behavior (e.g., out of touch
    with reality, talking about suicide)
  • others feel uncomfortable or worried about them
  • decline in functioning (e.g., not attending
    class, not sleeping or sleeping too much

What Graduate School Deans Administrators Can Do
  • 1. Work closely with Campus Mental Health
  • Working relationship knowledge of services
  • Promote Grad Student access to services
  • Assess GS Mental Health awareness
  • Programs Thesis groups, workshops
  • Support/funding for mental health services,
    coverage prescriptions, out-of-area
  • Referral Protocols, Leave policies, Emergency
    Management Team
  • Know when confidentiality is appropriate when
    it is important to share information on students
    with Team

What Graduate School Deans Administrators Can Do
  • 2. Increase Awareness of MH Services Resources
    among Graduate Students
  • Multiple formats Newsletters, emails, websites,
    handbooks, podcasts, brochures
  • Graduate School Orientation Important
  • Emphasize confidentiality in CMHS
  • Targeted campaigns for Men, Scientists,
    International Students, Families
  • Discuss Student Mental Health Issues in TA
    Training Handbooks

What Graduate School Deans Administrators Can
  • 3. Work with Departments Degree Programs
  • Regular oversight/reviews of students degree
    progress (CAGS Completion Report 2004 Rec4
    Supervision 2008)
  • Encourage reward good faculty mentoring (2004
    Rec. 6)
  • Encourage Multiple Supervisor/committee models
  • Mentoring programs for Women, Ethnic Minority
    Intl students (
  • Train faculty, Grad Program Directors GS
    administrative staff in Signs of Distress who
    to call for help (ACHA Depression brochure)

What Graduate School Deans Administrators Can Do
  • 4. Provide Confidential Advice Referral for
    Students at Graduate School Offices
  • Graduate School staff offices as Safe Space-
    not faculty, not MH service
  • Someone who listens cares
  • For advice on academic, career, and personal
    concerns referrals to resources
  • Open door access, drop in hours, email questions
    help, box of tissues

What Graduate School Deans Administrators Can
  • 5. Produce Wellness Programs in Partnership
  • Mental Health Services
  • Sports Recreation
  • Student Affairs/Student Activities
  • Religious Ministries
  • WorkLife
  • Career Services Professional Development
  • Teacher Training
  • International Students Office
  • Housing Food Services
  • -Partnering leverages resources staff

Partnered Programming Examples- Focus on
Wellness, Prevention Health
  • Publications recognize that grad school is
    challenging sometimes you need help/someone
    to talk to
  • De-Stress Days events
  • Time Stress Management, Perfectionism,
  • Healthy Eating Nutrition
  • Healthy Sleep Habits, Internet Overuse, Caffeine
  • Worklife Balance
  • Career Exploration
  • Depression Screening Awareness
  • Sports Fitness- Grad Intramural sports, fitness
    classes, walking
  • Make sure that grad students have same access as

Promising Practice Health Wellness Initiative,
Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan.
2006 http//
  • We all need to feel well to do well. Rackham's
    definition of wellness includes more than just
    physical health there are the psychological,
    spiritual, vocational, intellectual and cultural
    parts of your life, too. Balance within and among
    these is essential to your success in graduate
    school and throughout your professional career.
    To address this need for balance in and out of
    your academic life, Rackham launched a Health and
    Wellness Initiative for graduate and professional
    school students. (website continues)
  • Initiative Activities
  • Mental health outreach brochures, stress
    workshops exam study breaks
  • Physical Health Yoga Intro, Fun Runs, activity
    incentive program, Health/fitness fair.
  • Nutrition- healthy eating, eat breakfast focus.
  • Outreach Health Wellness newsletter 4 times a

What Graduate School Deans Administrators Can Do
  • 6. Build Community among Grad Students Combat
    Academic Isolation (CAGS 2004)
  • Comprehensive Graduate Student Orientation
  • To School, University Community
  • Academic, Social, Practical Informational
  • GS social cultural events, programs, services
  • Graduate Student Centers as community building
    (Yale, Harvard, UPenn, Boston College, UBC)
  • Graduate Student interest and cultural groups
  • Support research groups workshops, especially
    in Humanities Social Sciences (STEM journal

What Graduate School Deans Administrators Can
  • 7. Recognize reward students for non-academic
    achievements involvement
  • Awards for volunteerism, leadership, public
    engagement, etc.
  • Provide professional development opportunities
    for students to practice a range of work life
    skills (CAGS Professional Development 2008)

What Grad Students Can Do- Students Helping
  • Outreach Advocacy
  • Graduate Student Association advocacy for
    promotion of MH services
  • Graduate Student-written Survival guides-
    dept/school, print online
  • Mental health discussions with personal
  • Online mentoring guides (http//www.abdsurvivalgui
  • Promote Online services, screenings, Signs How
    to help someone in distress (http//www.mentalheal
  • Humor- PhD Comics (

36 Humor Wellness

What Grad Students Can Do- Students Helping
  • Programs
  • Wellness Programming organized by/with students-
    promoting awareness, healthy lifestyles
    prevention (Fellows _at_ Yale, Rackham initiative)
  • Student-driven Social Events Community
    building responsible use of alcohol
  • Support for women, Intl Students, Students with
    Children, Ethnic minorities
  • Peer mentoring counseling programs, hotlines
  • Promote Fitness, Sports Recreation- stress
    busters (UC Davis study)

Next Steps for Grad Schools in Dealing with
Mental Health
  • Assess GS MH needs services
  • Promote Wellness Prevention as Mental Health
  • Partnerships with Mental Health Centers, Faculty,
    GS Administration, Students various Campus
  • Improve supervision oversight in degree
    programs educate faculty staff on basic MH
  • Study links between Wellness degree completion,
    career outcomes, student satisfaction
  • -Discussion, share studies promising practices