Published: Tues., February 19, 2019, by Kymberly Caddell
As graduate students, we are expected to be the elite. We are expected to be better and know better. We are expected to be role models and leaders to undergraduates, produce meaningful research that is publishable, secure funding, and earn above average grades, all while most of us live on a salary that barely meets our basic needs. Unfortunately, the pressure and expectation of being elite can sometimes be too much. None of us want to admit that it is sometimes too overwhelming or too difficult, but the reality is that none of us are perfect, and all of us are humans. However, we push our mental health to the side as we focus on studying and producing research, forgetting about all the other parts that make us happy. Unfortunately, mental health in graduate school has become a serious issue, but fortunately there is a great resource on campus through Big Red Resilience and Well-Being where we can discuss our issues with real students who are going through the same issues we are and it’s called well-being coaching which will be discussed later.
Graduate Students’ Mental Health
There are several parts of graduate school that are challenging which is no surprise to most. What is a surprise, is the extremely high numbers of depression and anxiety experienced by many students across campuses in the United States due to the challenges of graduate school. One study in Nature Biotechnology found that of the 2,279 graduate students from 26 countries, 39% had moderate to severe depression, compared to just 6% in the general population!
Several factors contribute to the unique challenges graduate students face. This can include social isolation due to the nature of much of our research or having to move to a new state, country, or city for graduate school without knowing anyone. Another contributing factor could be lack of support from advisors. Advisors play a very large role in graduate students’ lives and when this relationship is tumultuous, it is often difficult for us to know what to do or who to turn to for help. Also, a very large factor that could explain the high rates of depression and anxiety in graduate school is finances. If we are lucky enough to secure funding through a research assistantship or teaching assistantship, it is often barely enough to meet our basic needs. This is probably one of the most significant stressors in graduate school. Fortunately, there is help for all the stress we experience throughout graduate school, and it is right on campus.
Big Red Resilience and Well-Being is a new organization on campus dedicated to makings sure all students are happy and healthy. They focus on the nine dimensions of well-being which include career, cultural, emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual well-being. As graduate students, we tend to force ourselves into only focusing on the intellectual dimension or career dimension of well-being, but may forget about the social, spiritual, or physical. Big Red Resilience and Well-Being assists students to go beyond just self-care, but develop a wholistic life through all nine dimensions. They cultivate these nine dimensions in students and staff through educational outreach, connecting students to resources across campus, as well as well-being coaching, which is a great way to connect with other students who may be experiencing the same issues as you.
Well-being coaching is a great way for us as graduate students to reach out and get support from people just like us, graduate students. Well-being coaching is similar to a peer mentoring relationship in which you are able to talk to, connect with, and have fun with someone just like you. Students can make an appointment with a well-being coach by clicking on this link. You can meet with a well-being coach just once to vent, or you can meet multiple times. Well-being coaching is different than therapy, because you are meeting with someone just like you, a fellow graduate student, but they are simply trained in how to help develop a better you! Also, although the first meeting will be in an office-like room, well-being coaching sessions can take place anywhere the coach and mentee feel comfortable which can include working out together, grabbing coffee, going to events together, or just simply talking. You can make it what you want based on the dimensions of well-being you want to focus on.
Well-being coaching is also a great opportunity to increase your own well-being! If you feel like helping students develop themselves is something you are interested in, you can also become a coach. It is volunteer-based and would require some training, but the experience from helping other fellow students is unforgettable. If you are interested in becoming a coach, you can visit the same link above to sign up and learn more.
Graduate school is hard, and it is okay not to be okay. Recognizing that we are all human, we all struggle, and we all need a little help sometimes is okay. The extremely high rates of anxiety and depression in graduate students are alarming, but well-being coaching is one way to help manage some of the stress experienced from the pressure of trying to be elite in graduate school. For more information on Big Red Resilience and Well-Being, go to this website.