Depression and Anxiety in Graduate Students: Why Don’t We Do Something About It?

The Atlantic posted an article last Tuesday on how graduate school can have negative effects on a student’s mental health. The workload of university is causing anxiety and depression in many graduate students.

The Atlantic details how most of us start out all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about graduate school with naïve expectations, only for our hopes and dreams to be crushed.

Okay, that summary is a little embellished but, as I was reading this article, currently in my own funk about the stress of my school’s demands, I couldn’t help but resonate with the entire article.

I’m stressed! My anxiety is through the roof! I have too many deadlines and requirements that come at once. Each one of them, no matter how minuscule they may seem, may threaten my graduation. If I don’t graduate, what do I have?

A bachelor’s degree and a house payment in student loans with nothing to show for it so, it is almost as if I have to make it through the program. There is also the shame of my ancestors and nosy folk but, the loans scare me more. If I didn’t have anxiety before, I certainly do now.

This article goes on to detail the different struggles of the graduate student with rigorous curriculums, loans, lack of time, feelings of isolation and no social life.

We know the story. There are testimonials given and heck, I can testify too! There is also a statement from a student saying that although his school made some effort to minimize students’ stress by hosting events on self-care, “no one has time for that.”

Can we just get a moment of silence for this here? Schools do this all the time. They make events to de-stress you during your time of stress when you have absolutely no time to take advantage of the event because there are so many scheduled events on your calendar that are mandatory.

The event may not be during your immediate class time but, you also have to prepare for the final, do other class work, fulfill your responsibilities for the extracurricular activities that were mandatory that you “volunteer” for and get at least 6 hours of sleep, maybe not. It depends.

In the Harvard study that The Atlantic sites, 18% of the 500 economic Ph.D. students were found to have experienced moderate or severe depression and anxiety.

That is almost 1 in 5 people. I bet you if they studied healthcare students or law students, the numbers would look similar or worse.

Why aren’t we doing something about these horrendous numbers? I am not talking about the little occasional free mindfulness sessions or creating stress-balls before finals.

What are we doing to help our graduate students over the entire course of their graduate education? These rigorous curriculums that are creating isolated students are triggering mental health issues in those who have had and have never had any mental health issues.

I think that we are hearing more and more about how the demands of these graduate programs are taking a toll on these student’s mental health and we are shocked for a moment but, then we let it go and forget about it. That’s just how graduate school is, right?

Why is it that, anyway? Why does graduate school have to be so rigorous, so demanding to the point where we start to unravel and become less of the human than we were when we began?

Why are students on campus doing required activities for 12 hours multiple days a week? Where is the time to study or just relax? Why are we not doing something about these curriculums? Stress is normal in life but,  only acutely. Chronic stress kills. It leads to immune issues, inflammation and eventually disease.

We have all these universities that want to be competitive and the best at everything. They keep piling work and requirements on their students to the point where the student actually becomes worse off. Best scores but, the worst mental health.

Burn-out has become normal.  Grades suffer due to burn-out and the university wonders why their scores are so low? They add more work and requirements in order to “help” you be better and it becomes an endless cycle of added chronic stressors. Anxiety soon becomes your best friend.

Why don’t we spread out the burden? Spreading out the courses or requirements would not hurt anybody. If anything, it might just make life more enjoyable as a graduate student.

We need the curriculum creators and course-coordinators to really re-evaluate the purpose of these programs. Why do the students want to come to graduate school?

How can we help them achieve those goals and do it without making them regret their decision or hate their lives for the next half-decade?

If you are truly honest with yourself about these rigorous curriculums, is everything done truly all that necessary or are we just trying to compete with the other school?

Does it leave our graduate students time to breathe? Are we just doing this because it has always been done or is it instrumental to the future of our graduate students?

Could you really survive graduate school, mentally and physically, without becoming an empty shell of your former self on this curriculum? What are the specific benefits of what we are doing?

Can the task be spread out throughout the curriculum or prolonged? I think that these are the type of things we need to think about our curriculum committees.

For the students, we need to realize that even though we do not have time to relax and not stress. Part of our duty to our mental health is to relax and let go, occasionally.

I know adding required relax time sounds stressful too. But, it truly helps. Learn your burn-out symptoms so you can stop it in its tracks. We cannot allow depression and anxiety to be normalized in the graduate school curriculum.

I was a little down in the dumps before I even read the article and it fueled my fire. I’m just trying to live my best life and be positive but, grad school seems to have other ideas in mind. Winter break is so close! I’m holding on tight!

Thanks for reading my rant. I feel as if I really ranted today but, just consider what I’ve said today. What can we do about the mental health situation so that it is not another forgotten statistic?

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Share this if you would like. Like this post, if you feel this post deep in your soul. Follow me for more of my ranting and comment below! What are your experiences with graduate school? What can we do to help stop mental health deterioration from becoming an even larger issue than it already is?

Read the original story here: Graduate School Can Have Terrible Effects on People’s Mental Health

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Shika Tamaklo is a pharmacist who graduated from Mercer University (2020). She is a college lifestyle blogger who writes on fitness, health, life struggles, creative side hustles and, occasionally dabbles in creative writing.

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