A Guide to Maintaining Your Mental Health in Graduate School

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Updated: November 8, 2023, Reading time: 9 minutes

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According to the World Health Organization, every human has the right to mental health. It is a basic human right that ensures everyone maintains the highest standard of mental health, including being protected from mental health risks and having accessible, acceptable, and available quality care. 

Juggling your time between graduate school, work, and other life commitments can be insanely overwhelming. Over time, this lifestyle can take a toll on your health, especially your mental health. This is why it’s important to always keep your mental health in check to be able to survive all of life’s challenges. 

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Why Graduate Students Are More Prone to Mental Health Problems

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According to Nature Portfolio, a global survey has been conducted involving master’s and Ph.D. students. Through this study, it was discovered that graduate schools are experiencing a mental health crisis, which is why research institutions need to find a solution to address such a problem as soon as possible. 

The online survey received 2,279 responses, mostly from students who are taking a doctoral degree from 234 institutions from around 26 countries. The survey revealed that there is an alarmingly high rate of anxiety and depression in academia. Based on the questionnaire, 41% of the respondents showed moderate to severe anxiety and depression, which is more than 6 times the prevalence in studies conducted with the general population. 

The Society of Behavioral Medicine also wrote in an article that graduate students may find it difficult to have a good work-life balance. This is because graduate students play various roles and fulfill many responsibilities, which can often lead them to take their work home. 

A lot of graduate students also work full-time. This means that they need to divide their time between school, work, and other responsibilities. Because of this, they may not be able to take any time off to relax, enjoy some downtime, and spend quality time with their family and friends. As a result, they become more susceptible to emotional exhaustion and depressive symptoms. 

Aside from having difficulty in maintaining a good work-life balance, some graduate students may not have easy access to student advisors who can provide support and mentorship. This is why it’s imperative for students who want to pursue a graduate degree to choose a college or university that provides students with support services that can be accessed 24/7. 

Additionally, students should also see to it that the school they want to enroll in has advisors who are inspirational leaders who are mindful of students’ mental health to minimize the risk of psychological distress. 

9 Signs of Mental Health Issues in Graduate Students

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Good mental health plays a vital role when it comes to school, work, and life. 

Here are a few tell-tale signs of mental health problems in students who are pursuing a graduate degree.

When you’re burnt out from always studying and working, one of the things you will experience is feeling overwhelmed by things that happened in the past, especially traumatic experiences. 

When you’re distressed, your fears tend to be magnified. As a result, you subconsciously think about all the bad memories you have had, making you feel worse about your current situation. You also begin to question your capability to accomplish such an endeavor because of your fear of repeating those bad experiences. 

Graduate school can be overwhelmingly stressful. Not being able to achieve a work-life balance can make matters worse, which can lead to feelings of agitation, hopelessness, or severe anxiety. 

Graduate students who are overwhelmed with school, work, and life tend to constantly worry. Because of this, they will also feel restless and irritated most of the time. On top of that, they won’t be able to concentrate because of their heightened emotions. 

Mental health problems can cause a graduate student’s academic performance to dramatically drop. Students who are suffering from stress, anxiety, or depression due to their graduate degree will eventually struggle with their coursework. They will start missing deadlines and not be able to engage or interact with their classmates and professors.

Students who are taking their master’s degree need to socialize with peers. However, once they start to experience mental health concerns, they will soon withdraw from social activities. They will have difficulty initiating or maintaining interpersonal relationships with other people. 

A person who is experiencing mental health issues can show physical signs and symptoms. Changes in their sleep patterns, weight, or appetite can be telltale signs of underlying problems. Aside from that, they may have complaints of gastrointestinal problems, headaches, and other recurring illnesses due to a compromised immune system. 

A person who pursues graduate studies is ambitious and driven. However, excessive self-criticism and perfectionism can be detrimental to one’s mental well-being. 

If you push yourself too hard to be at the top of your class and berate yourself if you don’t get what you want, you can experience intense fear of failure and self-doubt and be unable to acknowledge minor achievements, which are just as important. This can lead to more stress and other mental health issues. 

Procrastination is a coping mechanism for those who want to avoid stress. What makes this an undesirable trait is that it can lead to poor time management, which can eventually lead to more stress and ultimately worsen one’s mental state. 

When you try to do everything all at once, you’ll eventually suffer from mental problems due to stress. Once your stress levels reach an alarming rate, you will start losing sleep and eventually become fatigued and lack the energy to accomplish anything. As a result, you will become more emotionally, physically, and mentally drained. 

If you don’t take care of your mental well-being, you will soon discover that you are not accomplishing your goals. This can result in being hopeless about your future and lead to a myriad of other problems. 

One or two of these signs can already tell you that a graduate student is suffering from a mental health issue. 

Maintaining Your Mental Health in Graduate School

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Attending graduate school is no walk in the park. There are lots of challenges that you will encounter while pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree, which can affect your mental state. 

Below are some tips to help you cope with graduate school and keep your mental health in check. 

Graduate school is incredibly demanding of your time and energy. This is because a majority of graduate students work more than 30 hours a week and fulfill other responsibilities. This is why it’s important to know what to prioritize to ensure your workload will not affect your mental health. 

You need to plan your weekly schedule so you can manage your time well. Know what tasks or activities to prioritize so you don’t spread yourself thin and become stressed in the long run. 

According to the National Library of Medicine, Imposter Syndrome is a behavioral health phenomenon that usually affects high-achieving and high-functioning individuals, especially those in the fields of healthcare and medicine. Individuals who are affected by this syndrome are constantly bothered by feelings of anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and the fear of being taken as a fraud. This phenomenon can lead to anxiety, depression, and other behavioral health problems. 

To overcome the Imposter Syndrome, you need plenty of positive self-talk. You need to remind yourself that an admissions committee has thoroughly reviewed and accepted your application, which means that you are suited to the master’s or doctoral degree you are applying for. 

A study has shown that exercise can help improve your mental well-being. Being physically fit as a result of regular exercise can boost your confidence and improve your cognitive function. 

Exercise has been proven to prevent social withdrawal. Aside from that, it has been discovered that it can help patients who are suffering from schizophrenia be more physically fit, which is important to them because they are more susceptible to weight gain because of the antipsychotic medicine.

You need to acknowledge the fact that graduate school takes a lot of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. Also, you need to set realistic, achievable goals, which will take time and effort before you can realize them. 

If you have big goals, you need to break them down into smaller steps that will make it easier for you to work your way toward your success.                     S

Reaching out to professors, families, and friends is crucial because they can provide you with emotional support. They will be able to share with you their own challenges, experiences, and triumphs that have molded them into the professionals and individuals they are now.  

Graduate schools are also fantastic places to pursue both your professional and personal goals. However, you need to tread a long, hard road to reach your goals. This is why you need to develop a strategy that will keep you on track. 

Athletes train to win competitions. Similarly, graduate students also need to prepare themselves for the road ahead. 

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Key Takeaways

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