Graduate students are six times more likely to experience depression and anxiety compared to the general population, according to a March 6 study.
A recent journal article published in Nature Biotechnology surveyed 2,279 individuals — 90 per cent PhD students and 10 per cent master's students from 26 countries and 234 institutions. The study found the graduate student community has a considerable prevalence of individuals with anxiety and depression.
Madison Bettle, the Society of Graduate Students vice-president student services, said this statistic rings true for Western University students. Bettle was recently part of a team that gave a presentation to Western president Amit Chakma about graduate students' mental health. The presentation highlighted that graduate students have distinct mental health and wellness needs.
“In addition to being students, graduate students are also — at the same time — full-time researchers," explained Bettle. "They are publishing articles, attending conferences and also teaching."
Some graduate students are taking matters into their own hands. Faculty of Social Science students recently created the Sociology Graduate Mental Health Committee, a graduate, student-run committee that promotes and supports wellness and mental health literacy in the sociology department. The committee has already established collaborative efforts with SOGS, the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, the Sociology Graduate Students Association, Western International, the Wellness Education Centre and other organizations.
Holly Meaney, chair of the SGMHC, said the committee has been working on several important initiatives. One project has been the creation of emergency contact cards that provide the details of professionals that students in distress can quickly get in touch with.
Mental health training is another priority for SGMHC. According to Meaney, it is important that graduate students can recognize the warning signs of deteriorating mental health, both in themselves and in others. This is especially important when tragic events take place on campus.
“As [teaching assistants] are people who are quite involved with the graduate and undergraduate communities, [graduate students] are often looked to in times of student tragedies," Meaney said.
Student mental health and wellness is an issue on Western's radar. The university recently released their draft Student Mental Health and Wellness Strategic Plan. One priority for graduate students is privacy, according to Bettle. As Western moves to consolidate mental health services in one location, SOGS wants the new location to give graduate students access to mental health services through specific staff or faculty entrances.
For many graduate students, Bettle said sitting in waiting rooms alongside undergraduate students, some who might be students they instruct, can make it difficult for graduate students to be open about their needs. She said mental health training for faculty supervisors, who work closely with graduate students, is also important.
Meaney said the SGMHC is happy with Western’s new mental health strategic plan and its efforts to increase awareness about different mental health resources on campus. However, she encourages other departments to start committees similar to the SGHMC.
“For us, it has been something that has been extremely positive; it has allowed us come together as a grad community and really work on things important to us,” Meaney said.