Mar 28, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

A new study suggests that graduate students need more mental health support than they currently have. The study, published in Nature, suggests that graduate students have a greater risk for mental health issues than the general population.

Why? Social isolation, the nature of the work, feelings of inadequacy, and a tough job market.  

In an article in ScienceMag,  study co-author Teresa Evans and career development office director and lecturer at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio said that the new results “hopefully [add] to a conversation that might … result in a cultural change.” 

Of the 2,279 responses to the survey, 41 percent showed moderate to severe anxiety and 39 percent showed moderate to severe depression--both more than six times the prevalence found in studies of the general population.

There were also differences by gender. The study reported about a third of male respondents reporting each condition. About 40 percent of female participants reported each condition. Over half o the 42 transgender and gender-nonconforming respondents reported each condition. 

What helps? The study found that a positive relationship with each student's principal investigator (PI) and a healthy work-life balance helped respondents. 

The ScienceMag article reported that study co-author Nathan Vanderford, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington said,  “These data and others call for a major need for institutions to create programs to help solve these issues.” 

The authors' suggestions? Increasing awareness of mental health issues among students, facilitating access to dedicated support, training PIs to spot struggling students and refer them to appropriate resources, and encouraging PIs to promote work-life balance by leading by example.

Gail Kinman, a professor at the University of Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom, wrote an email to ScienceMag Careers and said, "If you are concerned about your mental health, take action at an early stage. Contact your counseling service to discuss options."

Learn more about mental health studies

 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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