Studies of mental wellbeing

There is growing evidence of a mental wellbeing crisis among graduate students, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to conjecture that this extends to postdocs and professors. I summarize these studies and offer many resources over here. If you know of another relevant study that I don’t mention here, please contact me!

Content warning: depression, anxiety, other mental illness, suicide

Evans et al. 2018, Nature Biotechnology, “Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education”; covered by Inside Higher Ed

  • 2,279 respondents from 26 countries and 234 institutions, 90% are PhD candidates, 38% in biological & physical sciences
  • 39% scored in the moderate to severe depression range
  • Compare with 6% of gen. pop. on same scale in same range
  • Gender minorities had significantly higher rates of problems than cis-men
  • (Lack of) satisfaction with mentorship/advising is a predictor of mental health problems

Levecque et al. 2017, Research Policy, “Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students”; covered by Physics Today and Science

  • 3,659 PhD candidates in Flanders Belgium, 66% in STEM (including biomedical fields)
  • 32% at risk of having/developing a common mental illness, esp. depression
  • 51% experience at least 2 symptoms of mental health problems (experience “psychological distress”), and this is twice as high as comparable non-grad-school population
  • Occurrence of mental health problems is higher in PhD students than in the highly educated general population, highly educated employees and higher education students
  • Odds of mental health problems significantly higher for women than men
  • Work and organizational context are significant predictors of PhD students’ mental health

Lipson et al. 2016, Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, “Major Differences: Variations in Undergraduate and Graduate Student Mental Health and Treatment Utilization Across Academic Disciplines”

  • 64,519 undergraduate and graduate students at 81 universities in the US
  • 26% of graduate students met criteria for at least one mental health problem
  • For students with apparent mental health problems, treatment rates are lowest in business and engineering

Garcia-Williams et al. 2014, Academic Psychiatry, “Mental Health and Suicidal Behavior Among Graduate Students”

  • 301 graduate students at a large southeastern university in the US; 73% from arts and sciences
  • At least half reported feelings of anxiety and intense loneliness
  • 86% reported feelings nervous or worrying a lot, feeling life is too stressful, and becoming easily annoyed or irritable in the past month
  • 7% reported thoughts of suicide
  • Men didn’t use services (e.g., counseling) as much as women

Hyun et al. 2007, Journal of American College Health, “Mental Health Need, Awareness, and Use of Counseling Services Among International Graduate Students” (see also Hyun et al. 2006, Journal of College Student Development)

  • 2,570 domestic and 551 international graduate students at a large university in the western US; 53% of int’l students are in science and engineering, 38% of domestic students are in science and engineering
  • 44% int’l students reported significant emotional or stress-related problem that significantly affected academic performance in the past year
  • 25% of domestic and 39% of international graduate students were unaware of university counseling services
  • 17% of int’l graduate students used counseling services, compared to 36% of domestic graduate students
  • Students with a positive working relationship with their advisor were less likely to report an emotional or stress-related problem

Institutional studies:

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