Graduate students: Mind your mental health this fall amid pandemic stress
Graduate students are facing many pressing issues as they evaluate their fall 2020 plans. But they can’t overlook the pandemic’s potential toll on their mental well-being.
The coronavirus is leading to plenty of uncertainty and anxiety among college students. For graduate students, those feelings are nothing new.
A 2018 study in the journal Nature Biotechnology found that “graduate students are more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety as compared to the general population.”
That’s due to factors like poor work-life balance and looming graduation deadlines, says Bradley Sommer, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students.
“To be a grad student in this country is to be constantly in a state of stress,” says Sommer, who’s also a fifth-year doctoral candidate at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
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Graduate students are facing many pressing issues as they evaluate their fall 2020 plans — like whether their funding will be cut off and whetherthey’ll have access to research labs. But they can’t overlook the pandemic’s potential toll on their mental well-being.
Here are three tips to help cope:
Acknowledge your feelings
Grad students still might not know whether they can continue their studies. That could affect things like fellowship funding and employment stipends. It also could lead to noneducational consequences, like losing access to health insurance.
“Not having health insurance during a pandemic is suboptimal,” Sommer says.
Graduate students also could be feeling alone or isolated from quarantining, or they could be taking care of family members affected by COVID-19.
If you’re overwhelmed, that’s understandable. It’s also normal, says Geoffrey Young, senior director of student affairs and programs for the Association of American Medical Colleges.
“Having periods of sadness, depression and uncertainty is not atypical during these very uncertain times,” says Young, a trained clinical psychologist.
A big step toward dealing with these intense emotions is to be honest with yourself about what you’re feeling. When difficult moments arise, look for a strategy that helps you cope. The AAMC offers a list of resources with information on potential options, such as meditating and exercising.
Take advantage of university support services
Whether your feelings are temporary or ongoing, your school likely has counseling services that can help.
In a 2017 Council of Graduate Schools survey, 96% of graduate school deans said their school or institution offered mental health support or crisis counseling. Still, additional CGS research has shown that schools sometimes struggle to promote these services.
Your school might offer expanded services due to the pandemic. Young says the AAMC has additional recommendations to help medical schools address mental health. Other graduate schools also have adapted to support their students.
UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services has eliminated its cap on counseling. Students previously were limited to three or six sessions, depending on their insurance.
Letty Trevino, vice president of academic affairs of the Graduate Student Association at UCLA, says the school has increased group therapy, “so students are meeting with multiple students who are going through similar situations.” Trevino, who’s a fifth-year doctoral student, says she’s found these sessions very helpful.
Use other available resources
Your school also might have other resources to help your well-being.
Trevino says UCLA has made online workout classes, healthy recipes and yoga meditation apps readily accessible.
“Find something that makes you happy, and do it,” she says. “Indulge in it.”
She says research productivity should take a back seat to being in the appropriate headspace.
Still, in-person research may be what pays the bills. And mental health resources might not address stress related to circumstances that work affects, like your finances or living arrangements.
The CGS says a shift to remote learning is “very unlikely to affect either stipends or housing.” But some could still struggle to make ends meet, even if they max out graduate student loans.
Trevino says many graduate students work multiple jobs — like babysitting or service industry jobs — that might no longer be available.
If you need financial assistance, find out what emergency financial aid your university offers.
The University of Michigan’s Rackham Graduate Student Emergency Fund has changed its rules to provide funds for temporary housing or students who have been unable to work due to COVID-19.
No matter the reason, reach out to your graduate program director if you’re struggling. The CGS says it’s “confident that graduate schools will continue to be flexible and as accommodating as possible” to meet the needs of their students.
The article originally appeared on NerdWallet.